Esoteric Christianity

Esoteric Christianity.


The Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 (click to enlarge)

“Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them , Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given…Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”–Jesus, Bible, St. Matthew, 13, 9-17.”

“In proceeding to the contemplation of the mysteries of knowledge, we shall adhere to the celebrated and venerable rule of tradition, commencing from the origin of the universe, setting forth those points of physical contemplation which are necessary to be premised, and removing whatever can be an obstacle on the way; so that the ear may be prepared for the reception of the tradition of the Gnosis, the ground being cleared of weeds and fitted for the planting of the vineyard; for there is a conflict before the conflict, and mysteries before the mysteries…Let the specimen suffice to those who have ears. For it is not required to unfold the mystery, but only to indicate what is sufficient.”–St. Clement of Alexandria [Titus Flavius Clemens] (c. 150-215 A.D.), Stromateis, Anti-Nicene Library, Vol. XII, Bk. V, Ch. xl.


The object [of this book, Esoteric Christianity] is to suggest certain lines of thought as to the deep truths underlying Christianity, truths generally overlooked, and only too often denied.

If true knowledge, the Gnosis, is again to form a part of Christian teachings, the study of the Lesser Mysteries must precede that of the Greater. The Greater will never be published through the printing-press; they can only be given by Teacher to pupil, “from mouth to ear.” But the Lesser Mysteries, the partial unveiling of deep truths, can even now be restored, and such a volume as the present is intended to show…the nature of the teachings which have to be mastered.

This is the way of the Divine Wisdom, the true Theosophy. It is not, as some think, a diluted version of Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Taoism, or of any special religion. It is Esoteric Christianity as truly as it is Esoteric Buddhism, and belongs equally to all religions, exclusively to none. This is the source of the suggestions made…for the helping of those who seek the light–that “true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (Bible, St. John, i, 9)

[Chapter 1: The Hidden Side of Religions]

Many, of not most, who see the title of this book will at once deny that there is anything valuable which can be rightly described as “Esoteric Christianity”. There is a widespread, popular, idea that there is no such thing as an occult teaching in connection with Christianity, and that “The Mysteries”, whether Lesser or Greater, were a purely Pagan institution. The very name of “The Mysteries of Jesus”, so familiar in the ears of the Christians of the first centuries, would come with a shock of surprise on those of their modern successors, and, if spoken as denoting a special and definite institution in the Early Church, would cause a smile of incredulity. It has actually been made a matter of boast that Christianity has no secrets, that whatever it has to say it says to all, and whatever it has to teach it teaches to all. Its truths are supposed to be so simple, that “a wayfaring man, though a fool, may not err therein,” and the “simple Gospel” has become a stock phrase.

It is necessary, therefore, to prove clearly that in the Early Church, at least, Christianity was no whit behind other great religions in possessing a hidden side, and that it guarded, as priceless treasures, the secrets revealed only to a select few in its Mysteries. But ere doing this it will be well to consider the whole question of this hidden side of religions, and to see why such a side must exist if a religion is to be strong and stable; for thus its existence in Christianity will appear as a foregone conclusion, and the references to it in the writings of the Christian Fathers will appear simple and natural instead of surprising and unintelligible. As a historical fact, the existence of this esotericism is demonstrable; but it may also be shown that intellectually it is a necessity.

The first question we have to answer is: What is the object of religions? They are given to the world by men wiser than the masses of the people on whom they are bestowed, and are intended to quicken human evolution. In order to do this effectively they must reach individuals and influence them. Now all men are not at the same level of evolution, but evolution might be figured as a rising gradient, with men stationed on it at every point. The most highly evolved are far above the least evolved, both in intelligence and character; the capacity alike to understand and to act varies at every stage. It is, therefore, useless to give to all the same religious teachings. Yet all types need religion, so that each may reach upward to a life higher than that which he is leading, and no type or grade should be sacrificed to any other. Religion must be as graduated as evolution, else it fails in its object.

Next comes the question: In what way do religions seek to quicken human evolution? Religions seek to evolve the moral and intellectual natures, and to aid the spiritual nature to unfold itself. Regarding man as a complex being, they seek to meet him at every point of his constitution, and therefore to bring messages suitable for each, teachings adequate to the most diverse human needs. Teachings must therefore be adapted to each mind and heart to which they are addressed. If a religion does not reach and master the intelligence, if it does not purify and inspire the emotions, it has failed in its object, so far as the person addressed is concerned.

Not only does it thus direct itself to the intelligence and the emotions, but it seeks, as said, to stimulate the unfoldment of the spiritual nature. It answers to that inner impulse which exists in humanity, and which is ever pushing the race onwards. For deeply within the heart of all–often overlaid by transitory conditions, often submerged under pressing interests and anxieties–there exists a continual seeking after God. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” (Bible, Psalm, xlii, 1) The search is sometimes checked for a space, and the yearning seems to disappear. Phases recur in civilization and in thought, wherein this cry of the human Spirit for the divine…this yearning of the human Spirit for that which is akin to it in the universe, of the part for the whole, seems to be stilled, to have vanished; none the less does that yearning reappear, and once more the same cry rings out from Spirit…So much is it an integral part of humanity, that man will have some answer to his questionings; rather an answer that is false than none. If he cannot find religious truth, he will take religious error rather than no religion, and will accept the crudest and most incongruous ideals rather than admit that the ideal is non-existent.

Religion, then, meets this craving, and taking hold of the constituent in human nature that gives rise to it, trains it, strengthens it, purifies it and guides it towards its proper ending–the union of the human Spirit with the divine, so “that God may be all in all.” (Bible, I Cor., xv, 28)

The next question which meets us in our inquiry is: What is the source of religions? To this question two answers have been given–that of the comparative mythologists and that of the comparative religionists. Both base their answers on a common basis of admitted facts. Research has indisputably proved that the religions of the world are markedly similar in their main teachings, in their possession of Founders who display superhuman powers and extraordinary moral elevation, in their ethical precepts, in their use of means to come into touch with invisible worlds, and in the symbols by which they express their leading beliefs. This similarity, amounting in many cases to identity, proves–according to both the above schools–a common origin.

But on the nature of this common origin the two schools are at issue. The comparative mythologists contend that the common origin is the common ignorance, and that the loftiest religious doctrines are simply refined expressions of the guesses of primitive men, regarding themselves and their surroundings. Animism, fetishism, nature-worship, sun-worship–these are the constituents of the primeval mud out of which has grown the splendid lily of religion. A Krishna, a Buddha, a Leo-Tze, a Jesus, are the highly civilized but lineal descendents of the whirling medicine-man of the savage. God is a composite photograph of the innumerable Gods who are the personifications of the forces of nature. And so forth. It is all summed up in the phrase: Religions are branches from a common trunk–human ignorance.

The comparative religionists consider, on the other hand, that all religions originate from the teachings of Divine Men, who give out to the different nations of the world, from time to time, such parts of the fundamental verities of religion as the people are capable of receiving, teaching ever the same morality, inculcating the use of similar means, employing the same significant symbols. Sun-worship, and pure forms of nature-worship were, in their day, noble religions, highly allegorical but full of profound truth and knowledge. The great teachers–it is alleged by Hindus, Buddhists, and by some comparative religionists, such as Theosophists–form an enduring Brotherhood of men who have risen beyond humanity, who appear at certain periods to enlighten the world, and who are the spiritual guardians of the human race. This view may be summed up in the phrase: “Religions are branches from a common trunk–Divine Wisdom.”

This Divine Wisdom is spoken of as the Wisdom, the Gnosis, the Theosophia, and some, in different ages of the world, have so desired to emphasize their belief in this unity of religions that they have preferred the eclectic name of Theosophist to any narrower designation.

The relative value of the contentions of these two opposed schools must be judged by the cogency of the evidence put forth by each. The appearance of a degenerate form of a noble idea may closely resemble that of a refined product of a coarse idea, and the only method of deciding between degeneration and evolution would be the examination, if possible, of intermediate and remote ancestors. The evidence brought forward by believers in the Wisdom is of this kind. They allege that the Founders of religions, judged by the records of their teachings, were far above the level of average humanity; that the Scriptures of religions contain moral precepts, sublime ideals, poetical aspirations, profound philosophical statements, which are not even approached in beauty and elevation by later writings in the same religions–that is, that the old is higher than the new, instead of the new being higher than the old; that no case can be shown of the refining and improving process alleged to be the source of current religions, whereas many cases of degeneracy from pure teachings can be adduced; that even among primitive peoples, if their religions be carefully studied, many traces of lofty ideas can be found, ideas which are obviously above the productive capacity of the individuals themselves…

Still pursuing our inquiry, we come next to the question: To what people were religions given? And here we come at once to the difficulty with which every Founder of a religion must deal, that already spoken of as bearing on the primary object of religion itself, the quickening of human evolution, with its corollary that all grades of evolving humanity must be considered by Him. Men are at every stage of evolution; in one place there is a highly developed and complex civilization, in another a simple state. Even within any given civilization we find the most varied types–the most ignorant and the most educated, the most thoughtful and the most careless, the most spiritual and the most brutal; yet each of these types must be reached, and each must be helped in the place where he is. If evolution be true, this difficulty is inevitable, and must be faced and overcome by the divine Teacher, else will His work be a failure. If man is evolving as all around him is evolving, these differences of development, these varied grades of intelligence, must be a characteristic of humanity everywhere, and must be provided for in each of the religions of the world.

We are thus brought face to face with the position that we cannot have one and the same religious teaching even for a single nation, still less for a single civilization, or for the whole world. If there be but one teaching, a large number of those to whom it is addressed will entirely escape its influence. If it be made suitable for those whose intelligence is limited, whose morality is elementary, whose perceptions are obtuse, so that it may help and train them, and thus enable them to evolve, it will be a religion utterly unsuitable for those men, living in the same nation, forming part of the same civilization, who have keen and delicate moral perceptions, bright and subtle intelligence, and evolving spirituality. But if, on the other hand, this latter class is to be helped, if intelligence is to be given a philosophy that it can regard as admirable, if delicate moral perceptions are to be still further refined, if the dawning spiritual nature is to be enabled to develop into the perfect day, then the religion will be so spiritual, so intellectual, and so moral, that when it is preached to the former class it will not touch their minds or their hearts, it will be to them a string of meaningless phrases, incapable of arousing their latent intelligence, or of giving them any motive for conduct which will help them to grow into a purer morality.

Looking, then, at these facts concerning religion, considering its object, its means, it origin, the nature and varying needs of the people to whom it is addressed, recognizing the evolution of spiritual, intellectual and moral faculties in man, and the need of each man for such training as is suitable for the stages of evolution at which he has arrived, we are led to the absolute necessity of a varied and graduated religious teaching, such as will meet these different needs and help each man in his own place.

There is yet another reason why esoteric teaching is desirable with respect to a certain class of truths. It is eminently the fact in regard to this class that “knowledge is power.” The public promulgation of a philosophy profoundly intellectual, sufficient to train an already highly developed intellect, and to draw the allegiance of a lofty mind, cannot injure any. It can be preached without hesitation, for it does not attract the ignorant, who turn away from it as dry, stiff and uninteresting. But there are teachings which deal with the constitution of nature, explain recondite laws, and throw light on hidden processes, the knowledge of which gives control over natural energies, and enable its possessor to direct these energies to certain ends, as a chemist deals with the production of chemical compounds. Such knowledge may be very useful to highly developed men, and may much increase their power of serving the race. But if this knowledge were published to the world, it might and would be misused, just as the knowledge of subtle poisons was misused in the Middle Ages. It would pass into the hands of people of strong intellect, but of unregulated desires, men moved by separative instincts, seeking the gain of their separate selves and careless of the common good. They would be attracted by the idea of gaining powers which would raise them above the general level. and place ordinary humanity at their mercy, and would rush to acquire the knowledge which exalts its possessor to a superhuman rank. They would, by its possession, become yet more selfish and confirmed in their separateness, their pride would be nourished and their sense of aloofness intensified, and thus they would inevitably be driven along the road which leads to diabolism, the Left Hand Path whose goal is isolation and not union. And they would not only themselves suffer in their inner nature, but they would also become a menace to society, already suffering sufficiently at the hands of men whose intellect is more evolved than their conscience. Hence arises the necessity of withholding certain teachings from those who, morally, are as yet unfitted to receive them; and this necessity presses on every Teacher who is able to impart such knowledge. He desires to give it to those who will use the powers it confers for the general good, for quickening human evolution, but he equally desires to be no part to giving it to those who would use it for their own aggrandizement at the cost of others.

Nor is this a matter of theory only, according to the Occult Records, which give the details of the events alluded to in Genesis vi, et seq. This knowledge was, in those ancient times and on the continent of Atlantis, given without any rigid condition as to the moral elevation, purity and unselfishness of the candidates. Those who were intellectually qualified were taught, just as men are taught ordinary science in modern days. The publicity now so imperiously demanded was then given, with the result that men became giants in knowledge but also giants in evil, till the earth groaned under her oppressors and the cry of a trampled humanity rang through the worlds. Then came the destruction of Atlantis, the whelming of that vast continent beneath the waters of the ocean, some particulars of which are given in the Hebrew Scriptures in the story of the Noachian deluge, and in the Hindu Scriptures of the further East in the story of Vaivasvata Manu.

Since that experience of the danger of allowing unpurified hands to grasp the knowledge which is power, the great Teachers have imposed rigid conditions as regards purity, unselfishness and self-control on all candidates for such instruction. They distinctly refuse to impart knowledge of this kind to any who will not consent to a rigid discipline, intended to eliminate separateness of feeling and interest. They measure the moral strength of the candidate even more than his intellectual development, for the teaching itself will develop the intellect while it puts a strain on the moral nature…

So much of theory we lay down as bearing on the necessity of a hidden side in all religions. When from theory we turn to facts, we naturally ask: Has this hidden side existed in the past, forming a part of the religions of the world? The answer must be an immediate and unhesitating affirmative; every great religion has claimed to possess a hidden teaching, and has declared that it is the repository of theoretical mystic, and further of practical mystic, or occult, knowledge. The mystic explanation of popular teaching was public, and expounded the latter as an allegory, giving to crude and irrational statements and stories a meaning which the intellect could accept. Behind this theoretical mysticism, as it was behind the popular, there existed further the practical mysticism, a hidden spiritual teaching, which was only imparted under definite conditions, conditions known and published, that must be fulfilled by every candidate. St. Clement of Alexandria mentions this division of the Mysteries. After purification, he says, “are the Minor Mysteries, which have some foundation of instruction and of preliminary preparation for what is to come after, and the Great Mysteries, in which nothing remains to be learned of the universe, but only to contemplate and comprehend nature and things.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, Bk. V, Ch. xi)

This position cannot be controverted as regards the ancient religions. The Mysteries of Egypt were the glory of that ancient land, and the noblest sons of Greece, such as Plato, went to Sais and to Thebes to be initiated by Egyptian Teachers of Wisdom. The Mithraic Mysteries of the Persians, the Orphic and Bacchic Mysteries and later Eleusinian semi-Mysteries of the Greeks, the Mysteries of Samothrace, Scythia, Chaldea are familiar in name, at least. Even in the extremely diluted form of the Eleusinian Mysteries, their value is most highly praised by the most eminent men of Greece, as Pindar, Sophocles, Isocrates, Plutarch and Plato. Especially were they regarded as useful with regard to post mortem existence, as the Initiated learned that which ensured his future happiness…

From Iamblichus, the great theurgist of the third and fourth centuries A.D., much may be learned as to the object of the Mysteries. Theurgy was magic, “the last part of the sacredotal science,” and was practiced in the Greater Mysteries, to evoke the appearance of superior Beings. The theory on which these Mysteries were based may be very briefly thus stated: There is ONE, prior to all things, immovable, abiding in the solitude of His own unity. From THAT arises the Supreme God, the Self-begotten, the Good, the Source of all things, the Root, the God of Gods, the First Cause, unfolding Himself into Light. From Him springs the Intelligible World, or ideal universe, the Universal Mind, the Nous, and the incorporeal or intelligible Gods belong to this. From this the World-Soul, to which belong the “divine intellectual forms which are present with the visible bodies of the Gods.” Then come various hierarchies of superhuman beings, Archangels, Archons (Rulers) or Cosmocratores, Angels, Daimons, Powers, etc. Man is a being of a lower order, allied to these in his nature, and is capable of knowing them; this knowledge was achieved in the Mysteries, and it led to union with God. In the Mysteries these doctrines are expounded, “the progression from, and the regression of all things to, the One, and the entire domination of the One,” and, further, these different Beings were evoked, and appeared, sometimes to teach, sometimes, by Their mere presence, to elevate and purify. “The Gods,” says Iamblichus, “being benevolent and propitious, impart their light to theurgists in unenvying abundance, calling upwards their souls to themselves, procuring them a union with themselves, and accustoming them, while they are yet in body, to be separated from bodies, and to be led round to their eternal and intelligible principle.” For “the soul having a twofold life, one being in conjunction with body, but the other being separate from all body,” it is necessary to learn to separate it from the body, that thus it may unite itself with the Gods by its intellectual and divine part, and learn the genuine principles of knowledge, and the truths of the intelligible world. “The presence of the Gods, indeed, imparts to us health of body, virtue of soul, purity of intellect, and, in one word, elevates everything in us to its proper nature. It exhibits that which is not body as body to the eyes of the soul, through those of the body.” When the Gods appear, the soul receives “a liberation from the passions, a transcendental perfection, and an energy entirely more excellent, and participates of divine love and an immense joy.” By this we gain a divine life, and are rendered in reality divine.

The culminating point of the Mysteries was when the Initiate became a God, whether by union with a divine Being outside himself, or by the realization of the divine Self within him. This was termed ecstasy, and was a state of what the Indian Yogi would term high Samadhi, the gross body being entranced and the freed soul effecting its own union with the Great One. This “ecstasy is not a faculty properly so called, it is a state of the soul, which transforms it in such a way that it then perceives what was previously hidden from it. The state will not be permanent until our union with God is irrevocable; here, in earth life, ecstasy is but a flash… Man can cease to become man, and become God; but man cannot be God and man at the same time.” Plotinus states that he had reached this state “but three times as yet.”

So also Proclus taught that the one salvation of the soul was to return to her intellectual form, and thus escape from the “circle of generation, from abundant wanderings,” and reach true Being, “to the uniform and simple energy of the period of sameness, instead of the abundantly wandering motion of the period which is characterized by difference.” This is the life sought by those initiated by Orpheus into the Mysteries of Bacchus and Proserpine, and this the result of the practice of the purificatory, or cathartic, virtues.

These virtues were necessary for the Greater Mysteries, as they concerned the purifying of the subtle body, in which the soul worked when out of the gross body. The political or practical virtues belonged to man’s ordinary life, and were required to some extent before be could be a candidate even for such a School as is described below. Then came the cathartic virtues, by which the subtle body, that of the emotions and lower mind, was purified; third the intellectual, belonging to the Augoeides, or the light-form of the intellect; fourth the contemplative, or paradigmatic, by which union with God was realized. Porphyry writes:

He who energizes according to the practical virtues is a worthy man; but he who energizes according to the purifying virtues is an angelic man, or is also a good daimon. He who energizes according to the intellectual virtues alone is a God; but he who energizes according to the paradigmatic virtues is the Father of the Gods. — (G.R.S. Mead, Orpheus, p. 59)

Much instruction was also given in the Mysteries by the archangels and other hierarchies, and, Pythagoras, the great teacher who was initiated in India, and who gave “the knowledge of things that are” to his pledged disciples, is said to have possessed such a knowledge of music that he could use it for the controlling of men’s wildest passion, and the illuminating of their minds…

Some of the symbols used are explained by Iamblichus, who bids Porphyry remove from his thought the image of the thing symbolized and reach its intellectual meaning. Thus “mire” meant everything that was bodily and material; the “God sitting above the lotus” signified that God transcended both the mire and the intellect, symbolized by the lotus, and was established in Himself, being seated. If “sailing in a ship,” His rule over the world was pictured. And so on. On this use of symbols Proclus remarks that “the Orphic method aimed at revealing divine things by means of symbols, a method common to all writers of divine lore.”

The Pythagorean School in Magna Graecia was closed at the end of the sixth century B.C., owing to the persecution of the civil power, but other communities existed, keeping up the sacred tradition. Mead states that Plato intellectualized it, in order to protect it from an increasing profanation, and the Eleusinian rites preserved some of its forms, having lost its substance. The Neo-Platonists inherited from Pythagoras and Plato, and their works should be studied by those who would realize something of the grandeur and the beauty preserved for the world in the Mysteries.

The Pythagorean School itself may serve as a type of the discipline enforced. On this Mead gives many interesting details, and remarks: “The authors of antiquity are agreed that this discipline had succeeded in producing the highest examples, not only of the purest chastity and sentiment, but also a simplicity of manners, a delicacy, and a taste for serious pursuits which was unparalleled. This is admitted even by Christian writers.” The School had outer disciples, leading the family and social life, and the above quotation refers to these. In the inner School were three degrees–the first of Hearers, who studied for two years in silence, doing their best to master the teachings; the second degree was of Mathematici, wherein were taught geometry and music, the nature of number, form, color and sound; the third degree was of Physici, who mastered cosmogony and metaphysics. This led up to the true Mysteries. Candidates for the School must be “of an unblemished reputation and of a contented disposition.”

The close identity between the methods and aims pursued in these various Mysteries and those of Yoga in India is patent to the most superficial observer. It is not, however, necessary to suppose that the nations of antiquity drew them from India; all alike drew from the one source, the Grand Lodge of Central Asia, which sent out its Initiates to every land. They all taught the same doctrines, and pursued the same methods, leading to the same ends. But there was much intercommunication between the Initiates of all nations, and there was a common language and a common symbolism. Thus Pythagoras journeyed among the Indians, and received in India a high Initiation, and Apollonious of Tyana later followed in his steps. Quite Indian in phrase as well as thought were the dying words of Plotinus: “Now I seek to lead back the Self within me to the All-self.”

Among the Indians the duty of teaching the supreme knowledge only to the worthy was strictly insisted on. “The deepest mystery of the end of knowledge…is not to be declared to one who is not a son or pupil, and who is not tranquil in mind.” (Shvetashvatarophanishat, vi, 22) So, again, after a sketch of Yoga we read: “Stand up! awake! having found the Great Ones, listen! The road is as difficult to tread as the sharp edge of a razor. Thus say the wise.” (Kathopahishat, iii, 14) The Teacher is needed, for written teaching alone does not suffice.

The “end of knowledge” is to know God–not only to believe; to become one with God–not only to worship afar off. Man must know the reality of the divine Existence, and then know–not only vaguely believe and hope–that his own innermost Self is one with God, and that the aim of life is to realize that unity. Unless religion can guide a man to that realization, it is but “as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” (Bible, I Cor., xiii, 1)

–Annie Besant, Esoteric Christianity, London, 1901, pp. 1-22.


Reincarnation–or reimbodiment–is an ancient tenet taught in the inner sanctum of every true religion since the dawn of time. This universal law is not mentioned directly in the Bible, partly because it was common knowledge at the time, although you can see clear references to reincarnation and karma in the books of Matthew, Luke and John.

Belief in reincarnation is one of the cornerstones of morality. So long as people are unaware of the existence of the Law of Cause and Effect [“Karma”] which is operative from one incarnation to the next, no amount of preaching or sermonizing will ever do much good.

As soon as you begin to acknowledge the law of reincarnation [and karma] you begin to understand that every event of your life (birth, marriage, personal encounters, accidents, successes, etc.) is significant, for everything stems from a specific cause whether it be recent or of long standing. This understanding influences your feelings and reactions to events because once you realize that everything has its meaning you are no longer tempted to rebel or to try and solve your problems with hatred and violence. When you realize that, whatever hardships you may have to put up with, they are the direct result of your own past faults, you accept the fact and cease trying to blame others for your misfortunes. And, finally, belief in reincarnation is a stimulus to developing your willpower: you become strong and steadfast, you avoid doing anything reprehensible that would entail more suffering in the future and you persevere in the work of building a better future.

Remember the first line in the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” This is an ancient esoteric axiom echoed by the Buddha that the first step on the path of enlightenment is not to incur any more bad karma. You achieve this by knowledge, or right-mindfulness. Understanding reincarnation and karma puts ones life on the right track.

Once you know and acknowledge these cosmic laws the light is yours and your powers of comprehension are greatly enhanced. Warmth is yours: you can be happy and rejoice in the thought that sooner or later you will attain your goal of perfection. And life is yours: you become active and full of initiative in the creation of your own future. Aren’t these three enormous advantages? And they all flow from a belief in reincarnation and karma.

When a man spends all his time eating, sleeping, amusing himself and procreating children; when he works only in order to earn his living, then whatever illusions he may have on the subject, his life is that of an animal; he is governed by instinct and his biological urges. Plants and animals do as much! His life follows its course as though he himself, his consciousness and his will, had no part in it. He goes from childhood to manhood and from manhood to old-age, sickness and death without intervening in any way.

When a man begins to use his mind consciously and takes command of his instincts, when he begins to purify and add the spiritual element to that level of his being, then he becomes a powerful factor, capable of changing his destiny. But what is destiny? Destiny is an implacable chain of cause and effect to which the animal, biological, instinctive level of life is subject.

The higher life begins at the point where man realizes that he is more than a stomach, a sex organ, a creature of flesh, bone and muscle. Divine life begins when a man realizes that he is also a spiritual being and that he is meant to act and create in the realm of the spirit, that he is meant to devote his life to something more than his physical needs, something sublime, luminous and divine; then, yes, he frees himself from destiny. The destiny of the physical body is to fall ill, die and be left to rot in the grave; on this level there is no escape from destiny. But once a man ceases to be confined to that level, once he ceases to identify himself with his own physical body, he ceases to be bound to destiny.

The spiritual-aware life enables us to add something to our instinctive life [as an animal] and live on a higher plane, a plane beyond the reach of destiny [fate].









First Edition 1961




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THE chief purpose of this book is to present a guide-book for those who wish to read and study The Secret Doctrine. It is not the intention to give a complete survey of H. P. Blavatsky’s great work, but rather to offer a method for pursuing its study. Yet it is hoped that those who follow this guide-book will acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the teachings of the Ancient Wisdom.

Since Secret Doctrine Classes represent the major Theosophical effort undertaken by the writer for several years, first-hand knowledge has been gained of the problems confronting many who endeavor to study H. P. Blavatsky’s writings. Again and again has the wish been expressed that there could be a book that would be of assistance in the study of the teachings. To meet this need, this work is offered. The effort has been made to overcome the difficulties that students encounter; hence the manner in which it is prepared. What actually caused the writing of the book carne about in this way.

The writer was requested to take part in a symposium to be presented at the 1956 Summer School convening at the Headquarters of the American Section of The Theosophical Society at Wheaton, Illinois. This formed part of the proceedings of the regular annual convention held at this Theosophical center. The symposium was entitled: “Methods of Approach to the Study of The Secret Doctrine,” The theme was of paramount importance, since this was the very line of endeavor being carried on in classes. Because of the problems encountered in class study, the decision was made to present a practical approach to the subject, emphasizing the aspect of now to read the volumes.

The idea was stressed that The Secret Doctrine was written from the Platonic standpoint rather than the Aristotelean. Therefore a universal outlook must be sought for primarily. So often, difficulty is experienced in understanding the teachings because of attempting to view them “from below”–that is, from the individual’s viewpoint–rather than “from

above,” from a cosmic standpoint. Therefore, the effort must be made to look down from above, as though a panoramic picture were being unrolled. There is no need to be concerned about details in the first glance–that is, in the first effort to understand a doctrine. The details may be examined later and placed in proper sequence. The example of man’s sevenfold principles was instanced. Too often the seven principles are viewed  “from below”. Thus, the Sthula-sarira (physical body) is considered first, and the other six principles super-imposed upon it. Because of this, it becomes difficult to comprehend the significance of Atman (man’s divine self), from below. Instead, viewed from above, Atman is a universal principle; it is even united with its Originating Source. It sends its radiance through the six emanated principles, which are all linked with the Self (Atman). Thus man from the standpoint of the Esoteric Philosophy is a Saptaparna–an unfolding “seven-leaved man-plant”; not an entity consisting of seven separate principles which may be peeled apart as one separates an onion (as H. P. B. has expressed it).

With specific reference to The Secret Doctrine: the suggestion was made that one should not attempt to read it in the way that an ordinary book is read. Especially is this the case if one has no ‘knowledge of Theosophy and is not acquainted with the terms used–not to mention Hebrew or Sanskrit words. How, then, could such a person commence reading the work? The recommendation was made that The Secret Doctrine should be read by  “subjects,” rather than page by page, using the index to joy down references to the chosen topic, then reading all the pages connected with the theme. Ways for conducting study-classes were considered, and selected pages were indicated for especial reading.

As this guide-book is declared to be “written in the form of a Commentary on H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine,” it hardly seems necessary to remark that citations are plentiful. This method was adopted for the following reasons. In order to read The Secret Doctrine understandingly it is necessary to know: (1) the meaning of a term itself–in the case of Sanskrit, going to the root-meaning of the word is of great importance; (2) the manner in which the term is used in relation to the passage; (3) the meaning of the whole passage; (4) the relation of the passage to the doctrine as a whole; (5) whether the term or passage is used in a generalizing sense or specifically; (6) whether a symbolical meaning is being employed; (7) whether more than one interpretation is applicable. Thus by having citations placed in desired positions, the reader may follow the sequence without need of turning for verification to the original.

A few words to those who are contacting the Ancient Wisdom for the first time. While every endeavor has been made to make each idea as clear as possible, so that an understanding of each doctrine may be gained, nevertheless, if you find that you do not comprehend a passage, or for that matter several passages, do not despair because of not understanding them upon the first reading. Instead of feeling vexed or allowing the thought to enter the recesses of the mind that “this is way beyond me,” simply turn to another chapter. Try the one on Races, or on Death. By an association of ideas, that which has seemed perplexing may become clear. Remember that when one idea is well understood, it will help in comprehending another, because the teachings are all interrelated. They have been separated into chapters for study-purposes. It would cause needless confusion to attempt to present the interrelated aspects before grasping the salient points of a single doctrine.

It should be borne in mind that H. P. Blavatsky’s work contains, as she states, the body of teachings given to the western world by those who may be regarded as the custodians of the Ancient Wisdom. Not only have they access to ancient records, such as the Book of Dzyan and its Commentaries, in which these teachings are to be found, but of even greater significance, they are able to expound and explain the profound and recondite doctrines upon which the teachings are based. This Ancient Wisdom, or Esoteric Philosophy, represents the teachings that were brought to mankind by the Divine Beings who enlightened humanity during the epoch known as the Third Race.

In conclusion. This work is entitled THE DIVINE PLAN for the reason that the writer holds that The Secret Doctrine testifies to the existence of a Divine Plan. He has sought to convey the knowledge of it to you, the reader. It is only fair to state, however, that the full and complete exposition of The Secret Doctrine is only attainable by means of the “seven keys” to its understanding. Since the seven keys were not provided in the volumes, the writer submits that he has attempted to present a guide-book towards their understanding, expressly for those who wish to read and study these ancient teachings. It is his fervent hope that this work may prove to be of assistance to all who read it.


Oak Park, Illinois,

July, 1958.


PONDERING on the vast reaches to which one may extend one’s thought, so that millions and millions of stars may be envisioned, and yet there is no limit to the immensities of Space, one must of necessity become imbued with the idea that law and order prevail throughout infinity–that there is in very truth a Divine Plan. Everything partakes of this Plan: worlds, suns, nebulae, galaxies, island universes–all these exist because of this Divine Plan; they arc indeed part of it. All the beings in the worlds are also integral parts of the Plan. The universe exists because it represents the unfoldment of the Vast Scheme. Other universes likewise manifest the operation of the Divine Plan.

The Divine Plan is a manifestation of Divine LAW. Just as the sun emits innumerable rays which are of the same essence as their emanating source, so rays are emitted from Divine Law, which are of the same essence as their Source; therefore these rays are Divine Laws. These maintain the Divine Plan.

The Divine Laws are fundamental in their scope; they were operative before the universe came into being: they continue functioning so long as the universe remains in manifestation, and will go on operating when the universe ceases to exist. Since these laws continue to operate, regardless of the fact that a man, a planet, a sun, or even a universe may be in manifestation or non-manifestation, they are Divine Laws, because they are beyond manifestation or non-manifestation, they are Divine Laws, because they are beyond the reach of space or time (in the sense that we are accustomed to think of space or time).

Since the Universe came into being became of laws governing it, then everything within it must be under the regency of those laws and partake of that Divine Plan, inasmuch as the part must follow the same pattern that the whole follows. Consequently you, your very self, are part of that Plan.

Do you doubt it? Do you wonder whether you are part of Divinity? Even as the scriptures aver: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” [1 Corinthians, iii, 16] Truly, God is the same as the Divine–one with the Divine Spirit–the Divine Plan. Albeit, doubts may be replaced by certainty when Divine Laws are stated and placed before you for contemplation. You will then see how you fit into the Grand Design, how you and every other entity in the cosmos exists because of this Divine Plan and because of the Divine Laws that preside over it.

Perhaps it may appear to you that there does not seem to be a Divine Plan in operation, that the world is in disorder, at times even topsy-turvy when armed conflicts rage–then, in truth, you have acknowledged the need for this book. For its purpose is to point out to you that there is a Divine Plan and that Divine Laws are coequal with it and are operative in it.

In regard to the imperfections which you envision: these are due to the actions of imperfect beings. So long as there are imperfect beings, whether in the administration of the affairs of the world or in the regency of the cosmos, imperfections are bound to occur. It is not maintained that perfection exists, nor that the cosmos is a manifestation of perfection. The reason that this idea is not held is because the cosmos itself is evolving,

seeking to become a better cosmos, striving to come into a greater degree of harmony with the Divine Plan. This is so because the cosmos represents the manifestation of a Great Being, however lofty in status the attainment may be. Indeed, there is a term for such a Great Being, called, technically, the Logos or “Watcher” of a cosmic system. The cosmos, then, is under the regency of a Cosmic Logos, Who is encompassed by lesser Beings, who in turn administer the Laws applicable to its sphere of influence. These lesser Beings–albeit far superior to humans in their degree of evolution—are termed Dhyani-Chohans—literally the “Meditative Lords” –divine intelligences.

Since the function of the Dhyani-Chohans is to administer the Divine Laws, their main endeavour is to carry out their task ever more efficiently, in order to become more able executors of the Plan. Moreover, no matter how consummately high the status of the Dhyani-Chohans may be, in comparison to the human stage of evolution, these lofty Beings are themselves pursuing their evolutionary development for the purpose of becoming more lofty and more experienced, in order that their magistracy of the Divine Laws may be more perfect and more in consonance with the Divine Plan. Even as they are pursuing their evolutionary development, so are all the other beings which come under their sphere of operation, irrespective of the evolutionary status of these lesser beings.

Each being has an innate urge to endeavor to come into closer harmony with the operation of the Divine Plan, striving ever to be a more able exponent of its Laws, even though apparently misapplying his abilities and at times acting contrariwise to the Divine Laws. Yet even by so doing, such a one has but placed himself under the operation of one of its Laws, the specific function of which is to set him aright; so that in time he will learn to work in harmony with the Great Law, instead of working against it.

Having stated that Divine Laws exist, the next step is to demonstrate that they are operative. This is undertaken by means of the exposition of doctrines which have been selected to exemplify the operation of the Laws. The doctrines represent teachings of the Ancient Wisdom, or the Esoteric Philosophy (Gupta-Vidya is the Sanskrit term), as presented in the work entitled The Secret Doctrine. But first, notice the enumeration of the Laws and associated doctrines, as this will give the sequence in which they are considered, while at the same time it will provide an insight into the nature and scope of the work.

THE LAW OF PERIODICITY. This is set forth in the axiom that for every period of activity there is a consequent interval of rest, observable in nature as day and night, the flow and ebb of tides, the processes of waking and sleeping, birth and death, and so on. One phase of this Law manifests as the Law of Constant Renewal, in which the necessity for rebirth, or reimbodiment, is demonstrated. The doctrine exemplifying the Law of Periodicity is therefore entitled the Doctrine of Constant Renewal.

THE LAW OF ADJUSTMENT. Since harmony follows as the natural sequence of the unfoldment of the Divine Plan, whenever it is disturbed, an adjustment must be made in order that the disrupted equilibrium may be restored. A word explaining the action of this Law is well known, in fact it is even called the Law of Karma. The exposition of the Law of Karma is given under the Doctrine of Balance and Harmony.

THE LAW OF ESSENTIAL UNITY. This Law truly illustrates the operation of the Divine Plan: every entity lives its life in the field or sphere of a greater being; the greater being maintains the sphere for the lesser. The Doctrine of Hierarchies is the name chosen for the doctrine that exemplifies the Law of Essential Unity. “Graded beings,” is the definition intended for the word “hierarchies,” infinite in number. The beings forming the universe and living in it are all linked together because of a common bond of origin, in keeping with the Law.

THE LAW OF SELF-UNFOLDMENT. This is demonstrated by the urge which causes every entity to seek to express itself in accordance with its essential characteristics. The doctrine associated with this Law is called the Doctrine of Essential Identity.

THE LAW OF MOTION. Everything demonstrates the action of this Law, for nothing can remain isolated or static. Some force ever impels it onward, ever seeking a loftier status. “It is a fundamental law in Occultism that there is no rest or cessation of Motion in Nature.” This Motion is applicable not only during periods of activity but during periods of rest. The Doctrine of Continuous Change exemplifies the Law of Ceaseless Motion.

THE SEPTENARY LAW. The prevalence of the number seven—so familiar in the seven days of the week, the seven colors of the rainbow, the seven notes of the musical scale–is indicative that such a Law is operative. Special attention is given to the following “sevens”: the seven Planes, the seven Lokas and Talas, the seven Tattvas or Element-Principles, the seven Kosmic Principles and the sevenfold constitution of man. Consideration of the Septenary Law is continued under the sequence of the next three chapters entitled: The Doctrine of the Spheres (which is subdivided into seven sections); The Doctrine of the Races; The Doctrine of the Rounds.

Following the Septenary Law another phase of the Law of Periodicity is reviewed under the title “The After-Death States,” answering the question “What happens to man when death occurs?”

THE LAW OF COMPASSION. Although present throughout the universe and a fundamental necessity in carrying on the purposes of the Divine Plan; nevertheless the Doctrine of the Two Paths illustrates the operation of the Law in superlative degree.

THE LAW OF COMING INTO BEING. The title chosen for this Law endeavors to express in words that baffling mystery present in the manifestation of Life which pervades every entity, great or small. “Everything has come out of Akasa in obedience to a law of Motion inherent in it and after a certain existence passes away.” The name chosen for the doctrine associated with this Law is entitled the Doctrine of Universal Knowledge. While the subject is admittedly beyond the reach of man during his present evolutionary stage, since the higher faculties are not fully developed, nevertheless some of the loftiest ideas presented in The Secret Doctrine are dealt with in this concluding chapter.

In presenting for your consideration the doctrines associated with the Divine Laws, you are being placed en rapport with a great Continent of thought, which represents the Wisdom of the ages–the heritage of the human race. May it help you as it has helped those who have contacted it and passed it on in their turn, so that your vision may be grander, your understanding more profound, in order that your life may be nobler, ever coming into closer harmony with the Divine Plan.



THE proposition has been established that there is a fundamental law of Rhythm, which is an aspect of Eternal Motion. This law manifests in the manner of cyclic pulsations in alternating periods of manifestation and dissolution. Thus every period of activity (Manvantara or Manifestation) requires a rhythmic sequence in an opposite direction, namely a period of rest (Pralaya or Dissolution). Therefore we may deduce that Harmony

or Rhythm is a fundamental aspect of the Divine Plan. Since this is so, then if this harmony should be disturbed, whether by outside forces or internal energies, there must of necessity be an inherent urge tending to restore the disturbed harmony. The Ancient Wisdom postulates that this urge is a manifestation of a law as fundamental and eternal as that of Motion itself, operating constantly towards restoring harmony whenever it is disrupted, so as to maintain balance. This primal law may be called the Law of Adjustment, although it has been familiarized under a Sanskrit name which is fairly well known in the West–the Law of Karma.

Karma has been described as the law of ethical causation, or the law of cause and effect. It should be borne in mind, however, that the essential meaning of the Sanskrit word is action, for karman is derived from the verbal root kr, meaning to do, to act. When an action is performed a sequence of events is bound to occur, depending upon the kind of action and the, force with which the action was performed. Likewise the reaction or effect, is governed by the motivating force: if weak, the reaction will be weak; if strong there will be a strong reaction–until equilibrium is restored and harmony reigns again.

In the opening chapter stress was given to the universal scheme, showing that the process of constant renewal governed the universe and this aspect will now be continued. Referring again to the periods of activity, followed by periods of rest: during the former the universe comes into manifestation for an active period; during the latter it goes into a passive period. It should be obvious that causes were engendered during the cycle of existence which were not completely worked out, or fully adjusted, when the universe went into passivity; consequently all such remain unfulfilled. It is this “unfinished business” (to use easily understood words) which acts as a forceful factor in bringing about a re-emergence, in order that another period of activity may offer an opportunity for completing the “unfinished business,” as well as making necessary adjustments.

Pause for a moment to make a comparison in the cycle of a human being. The same factor is involved. A person passes from this world before fulfilling his true goal, leaving behind hosts of unfulfilled longings and yearnings. These act as potent factors in drawing the person back to the scene of the former achievements, in order that he may work out what he longed to do. It may be thought that these yearnings are blotted out, or obliterated, during the interval of death and that therefore they would fade out from the Earth’s atmosphere, but such is not the case. For the record that was made at the moment that the thought or act was initiated is an indelible one, being impressed upon the imperishable substance-principle pervading the universe–both during Manvantara (period of activity) as well as Pralaya (period of dissolution). This imperishable substance-principle is known as Akasa. For even during the periods of Rest, Motion still “pulsates and thrills through every slumbering atom” as a Commentary on the Book of Dzyan explains it. (I, 116)

Akasa is a term needing explanation, as it is used frequently in The Secret Doctrine and with varying meanings; hence it is difficult to give a precise definition. The root meaning may be helpful in providing a clue: it is derived from the verbal root kas, to shine; hence literally “the shining substance”. Esoterically it signifies the Primordial Light manifesting through Divine Ideation. This explanation is given:

“In the ABSOLUTE or Divine Thought everything exists and there has been no time when it did not so exist; but Divine Ideation is limited by the Universal Manvantaras. The realm of Akasa is the undifferentiated noumenal and abstract Space which will be occupied by Chidakasa, the field of primordial consciousness. It has several degrees, however, in Occult philosophy; in fact, ‘seven fields’.”

Hence the reason for the variance in meaning, for Akasa may be divided into various stages, or planes, or fields of manifestation. Thus in its upper reaches it tallies with the definition of the Root of All, as used in Southern Buddhism, from which everything in the universe comes into being, in obedience to a law of motion inherent in it. In this aspect Akasa is synonymous to the Tibetan term Tho-og–Space, which is rendered Aditi in Hindu scriptures. Again Akasa is equivalent to Adi Buddhi in Northern Buddhistic terminology, likewise Alaya; or Svabhavat of the Stanzas of Dzyan, rendered “Father-Mother”; sometimes it is translated “ Primordial Aether”. Another term used with great frequency and similar in meaning is Mulaprakriti (pre-cosmic Root-Substance) of the Vedantins, in that it is the basis for the seven Prakritis composing the manifested world. In the Brahmanical scheme the equivalent word is Pradhana. Anima Mundi should not be omitted in this delineation. These two Latin words, literally meaning “Soul of the World,” are also used with a great degree of latitude; most frequently in the same way that Astral Light is employed (for lack of a true English equivalent) in two ways: (1) the Universal Astral Light; (2) the Earth’s Astral Light–representing the lowest reaches of Akasa and signifying in this aspect, technically, the Linga-Sarira of the Earth.

“The astral light stands in the same relation to Akasa and Anima Mundi, as Satan stands to the Deity. They are one and the same thing seen from two aspects: the spiritual and the psychic–the super-ethereal or connecting link between matter and pure spirit, and the physical.” (I, 197 *) (*Vol. I, p. 247, 6 vol. ed.; I, 219, 3rd ed.)

In yet another aspect, Akasa is enumerated as one of the Cosmic Principles, (Tattvas)–the Fifth Cosmic Principle, which is rendered as Aether.

The particular aspect of Akasa that is desired to be stressed here is that of the permanent record and its relation to the Doctrine of Balance. This record may be described as the cosmic storehouse or picture gallery, every deed and thought whether on the physical or astral plane being indelibly registered therein. This aspect is prominent in religions, especially the Hindu and the Egyptian, in connection with the judgment which takes place after death, The theme is present in the West, too, in the idea of the Recording Angel–which doubtless had its origin in the Kabbala, in the description of four Recording Angels, one connected with each of the cardinal points. Then there is the account in the Book of Revelation, of the Book of Life and of the judgment:

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God: and the books were opened: and another book was opened which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (ch. xx, v. 12)

That everything partakes of the Divine Plan and is registered in the ever-present Akasic record may be pointed to in another familiar passage in the New Testament. That is to say, the idea is present even though the words expressing the thought are allegorical in manner. This is in connection with the saying that not even a sparrow is forgotten of God and that “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered”. (Luke, xii, 6-7)

It should be obvious that if a sparrow is not forgotten of God, it is because the presence of the sparrow has been registered on the indelible record-the Akasa.


Since this recording process in connection with the Akasa is going on continuously, there must be entities or beings associated with the process. In The Secret Doctrine these beings are called Lipikas, sometimes rendered “Lords of Karma”. In so far as conveying the idea, the term is satisfactory enough, except it should be remembered that the usual connotation of judgment associated with the Lord should not be held, inasmuch as the registering is an automatic process. It is very similar to the taking of a picture by a camera–whatever is exposed to the lens is captured on the film, automatically, regardless of what the picture may be or may portray and without any judgment attaining thereto. Of course, a person is holding the camera, focusing it and taking the picture. The Lipikas may be said to provide the specific Akasa for registering the thought or deed. A better term than Lords of Karma would be Karmic Scribes, as this gives the literal meaning of the word Lipika, which is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root, lip—to write.

“Mystically, these Divine Beings are connected with Karma, the Law of Retribution, for they are the Recorders or Annalists who impress on the (to us) invisible tablets of the Astral Light, ‘the great picture-galley of eternity ‘–a faithful record of every act, and even thought, of man, of all that was, is, or ever will be, in the phenomenal Universe. As said in Isis Unveiled, this divine and unseen canvas is the BOOK OF LIFE.” (I, 104*) (Vol. I, p. 165, 6 vol. ed.; I, 130, 3rd ed.)

These Divine Beings are then connected with the deities of religions in the following passage:

“The forty ‘Assessors’ who stand in the region of Amenti as the accusers of the Soul before Osiris, belong to the same class of deities as the Lipika, and might stand paralleled, were not the Egyptian gods so little understood in. their esoteric meaning. The Hindu Chitra-Gupta who reads out the account of every Soul’s life from his register, called Agra-Sandhani; the ‘Assessors’ who read theirs from the heart of the defunct, which becomes an open book before (whether) either Yama, Minos, Osiris, or Karma–are all so many copies of, and variants from the Lipika, and their Astral Records. Nevertheless, the Lipi-ka are not deities connected with Death, but with Life Eternal.” (I, 104-5) (Vol. I, p. 166, 6 vol. ed.; I, 130-1, 3rd ed.)

For the Divine Plan is eternal and the Lipikas continuously register phases of it, in order that the Divine Law of Harmony may be fulfilled.

In connection with the previous citation: without doubt the most dramatic of all the religious presentations in regard to man’s actions and the accompanying after-death conditions was that portrayed by the Egyptians. During life every individual was held to be compiling a record of his deeds, both good and evil. When death occurred he would be judged according to this recording. The deceased is led to the Hall of Truth by Anubis, the jackal-headed deity, Lord of the SilentLand of the West, the land of the Dead, the preparer of the way to the other world. Before the assembled conclave of gods and goddesses, forty-two in number (called Assessors in the above citation), he is led up to the throne of Osiris, the great Judge of the Dead, portrayed with his scepter in the form of a crook and whip. The heart of the deceased is placed in one of the pans of the scales and weighed in the balance–the good deeds against the evil. The outcome is recorded by the divine scribe, Thoth, who is pictured with tablet and stylus. The deceased is represented as pleading to be one like unto Osiris and to be permitted to rest among the stars that never set. Such will be the destiny at the end of the Great Cycle. For mortals the outcome of the weighing in the balance would consist of passing into the cleansing regions of Amenti and after sufficient purification entering the fields of Aanroo. There the deceased would sow and reap wheat three, five or seven cubits in height. Those who gleaned wheat of three feet would, return to the realms of purification. Those who gleaned the higher stalks would enter the land of bliss, and after a period of three thousand years return to earth to be born again, seeking to balance the scales.

In the Hindu account, Yama is the god of the dead and is represented as seated on the throne of judgment (named Vicharabhu) (Vicharabhu: derived from the verbal root vicharati, to move hither and thither, hence when applied to the mind: to ponder, to consider; therefore “the judgment seat”.) in his palace, Kalichi. When a person dies, his soul enters the region of the dead, known as Yamapura (the domain of Yama), and finds his way to Yama’s palace. There before the judgment seat, the divine recorder, Chitragupta (literally “the distinguished hidden one”) reads out his record from the great register, the Agra-sandhani (Agra-sandhani: agra, foremost, chief; sandhani, joining together, assemblage; hence “the great assemblage of deeds”.), following which Yama gives his judgment. If guilty he must go to one of the 21 hells, according to the degree of his guilt, otherwise he is assigned to the abode of the Pitris (equivalent to Devachan). Eventually he is sent to be born on earth again.

In the Greek account Minos is regarded as one of the judges in Hades’ (the Underworld) ruled over by Pluto.

Even popular accounts of the ancient religions (since the secret teachings were never recorded) tally with the teachings presented in The Secret Doctrine, when one follows the clues given for interpreting and understanding the ancient religions.

Continuing the theme of the Lipikas. Because the permanent record has been made—recorded by the Lipikas on the eternal tablets of the Book of Life–it therefore becomes obligatory that this account be balanced. The circumstances that are undergone for the purpose of providing the necessary adjustments become the “karma”–whether it be in the case of a universe or man. Observe the process in regard to the universe:

“As it is the Lipika who project into objectivity from the passive Universal Mind the ideal plan of the universe, upon which the ‘Builders’ reconstruct the Kosmos after every Pralaya, it is they who stand parallel to the Seven Angels of the Presence, whom the Christians recognize in the Seven ‘Planetary Spirits’ or the ‘Spirits of the Stars’; for thus it is they who are the direct amanuenses of the Eternal Ideation–or, as called by Plato, the ‘Divine Thought’. The Eternal Record is no fantastic dream. . . .” (I, 104) (Vol. I, p. 165, 6 vol. ed.; I, 130, 3rd ed.)

As to the process in regard to man:

“Connected as the Lipika are with the destiny of every man and the birth of every child, whose life is already traced in the Astral Light–not fatalistically, but only because the future, like the PAST, is ever alive in the PRESENT–they may also be said to exercise an influence on the Science of Horoscopy.” (I, 105) (Vol. I,  p. 166, 6 vol. ed.; I,131, 3rd ed.)

It is man’s thoughts and deeds that provide the pattern for his life both in the immediate present and in the future. Man is essentially a thinker: he is constantly thinking thoughts. Some of his thoughts he imbues and endows with potency: some of which he carries out in the form of acts. Thus his thought-life in time becomes his dominant pattern; this has been created by man himself. As he continues to live his life, from day to day he carries on the process of shaping and moulding this pattern. It is this pattern which he is projecting into the Astral Light and will become his dominant pattern-to-be when he returns to Earth for his next rebirth. Then he will “trace” the pattern of his life, because it is his own creation.

An explanation is given as to how the recording processes react upon mankind–through the agency of the Lokapalas and Maharajas, both of whom may be regarded as popularized aspects of the Lipikas in the guise of deities. The citation opens, however, by alluding to both of the previous quotations, and then draws attention to the Lokapalas:

“The Planetary Spirits are the informing spirits of the Stars in general, and of the Planets especially. They rule the destinies of men who are all born under one or other of their constellations; the second and third groups pertaining to other systems have the same functions, and all rule various departments in Nature. In the Hindu exoteric Pantheon they are the guardian deities who preside over the eight points of the compass–the four cardinal and the four intermediate points–and are called Loka-palas, ‘Supporters or guardians of the World’ (in our visible Kosmos), of which Indra (East), Yama (South), Varuna (West), and Kuvera (North) are the chief; their elephants and their spouses pertaining of course to fancy and afterthought, though all of them have an occult significance.

“The Lipika … are the Spirits of the Universe, whereas the Builders are only our own planetary deities. The former belong to the most occult portion of Cosmogenesis, which cannot be given here. . . . Of its highest grade one thing only is taught: the Lipika are connected with Karma–being its direct Recorders.” (I, 128) (Vol. I,  pp. 186-7, 6 vol. ed.; I,153, 3rd ed.)

The four Maharajas, at the four cardinal points are the same as the four Lokapalas, just named. The four rulers of the intermediate points are: Agni at the South-East, Surya at the South-West, Pavana at the North-East; Soma or Chandra at the North-West (according to the Laws of Manu).

A sloka (or verse) from the Stanzas of Dzyan opens the next passage. Notice the similarity in the vision of Ezekiel, chapter i: “behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it . . . out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. . . and every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. . . Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. . . and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” (verses 4-16)

“Four ‘winged wheels at each corner . . . . for the four holy ones and their armies (hosts)’ . . . . These are the ‘four Maharajas’ or great Kings of the Dhyan-Chohans, the Devas who preside, each over one of the four cardinal points. They are the Regents or Angels who rule over the Cosmical Forces of North, South, East and West, Forces having each a distinct occult property. These BEINGS are also connected with Karma, as the latter needs physical and material agents to carry out her decrees, such as the four kinds of winds, for instance, professedly admitted by Science to have their respective evil and beneficent influences upon the health of Mankind and every living thing. There is occult philosophy in that Roman Catholic doctrine which traces the various public calamities, such as epidemics of disease, and wars, and so on, to the invisible ‘Messengers’ from North and West. ‘The glory of God comes from the way of the East’ says Ezekiel; . . . . .

“Belief in the’ Four Maharajas ‘–the Regents of the Four cardinal points–was universal and is now that of Christians, who call them, after St. Augustine, ‘Angelic Virtues,’ and ‘Spirits’….

“It is not the ‘Rector’ or ‘Maharaja’ who punishes or rewards, with or without ‘God’s’ permission or order, but man himself–his deeds or Karma, attracting individually and col1ectively (as in the case of whole nations sometimes), every kind of evil and calamity. We produce CAUSES, and these awaken the corresponding powers in the sidereal world; which powers are magnetically and irresistibly attracted to–and react upon–those who produced these causes; whether such persons are practically the evil-doers or simply Thinkers who brood mischief.” (I, 122-4)(Vol. 1, pp. 181-2, 6 vol. ed.; I, 147-9, 3rd ed.)

One of the passages quoted earlier referred to the “Constellation” under which a person is born. This theme is again mentioned in the next citation and further clarified. Nowadays the “Constellation” is usually referred to ‘as a Sign of the Zodiac–one for every month of the year. Observe the interpretation given to the Sanskrit term Maya (literally “the measured,” derived from the verbal root ma-to measure; hence that which may be measured, defined, limited, when applied to the material world, or material universe, which from the standpoint of Reality is an illusory world, hence an illusion):

“According to the teachings, Maya, or the illusive appearance of the marshalling of events and actions on this earth, changes, varying with nations and places. But the chief features of one’s life are always in accordance with the ‘Constellation’ one is born

under, or, we should say, with the characteristics of its animating principle or the deity that presides over it, whether we call it a Dhyan-Chohan, as in Asia, or an Archangel, as with the Greek and Latin churches….

“Yes; ‘our destiny is written in the stars!’ Only, the closer the union between the mortal reflection MAN and his celestial PROTOTYPE, the less dangerous the external conditions and subsequent reincarnations—which neither Buddhas nor Christs can escape.” (I, 638-9) (Vol. II,  pp. 363-4, 6 vol. ed.; I, 699-700, 3rd ed.)

“Yes, our destiny is written in the stars” because man has set the pattern for that destiny by means of his former living. An aid in following that pattern is created by man himself in entering the doorway of life (on this earth) through a particular door–there being twelve doors, one for every month of the year–on a particular day of the month. The phrase “the closer the union between the mortal reflection Man and his celestial Prototype” may be clarified in this way: the object of man’s goal, on this Earth, is to attain Union (or Yoga). In brief, it is uniting his personality with his divine originating source. The personality is here expressed as the “mortal reflection, man” since it dies with the death of the physical body: it does not return to earth-life. But it is man’s immortal part, technically, the Reincarnating Ego, which does reincarnate, and becomes one of the rays from man’s originating source–the Monadic Essence, or “Celestial Prototype”.

As to the phrase “reincarnations which neither Buddhas nor Christs can escape” (observe the plural form!): this is apt to be bewildering. It is thought-provoking, to say the least, and can only be understood when full knowledge is obtained of the Doctrine of the Spheres, as well as the Doctrine of the Rounds and Races and the “mysteries of the Buddha” (as H. P. B. expresses it elsewhere). Suffice it to say here (The subject is dealt with more fully in Chapter XI–“The Doctrine of the Two Paths”), in a suggested explanation which must be brief, that a Buddha is one who has attained Union–attained the goal so far as this earth is concerned; and that a Christ is a being superior to this earth. However, in more lofty spheres and systems, attainment in those very superior realms is attained in the same manner that attainment is reached on this earth–that is to say, by means of the Doctrine of Constant Renewal–or through repeated reincarnations “which neither Buddhas nor Christs can escape” in those superior realms.


In viewing the Law of Adjustment from the personal standpoint, instead of from the cosmical point of view, one is apt to be led to conclude that since one has set causes in motion which will react upon oneself as effects, this would seem to incline one to regard one’s present life in a fatalistic manner, since the destiny which has been traced for oneself is inescapable. Therefore particular attention is called to what is written in regard to Fatalism. It is a continuation of the previous citation:

“This is not superstition, least of all is it Fatalism. The latter implies a blind course of some still blinder power, and man is a free agent during his stay on earth. He cannot escape his ruling Destiny, but he has the choice of two paths that lead him in that

direction, and he can reach the goal of misery–if such is decreed to him, either in the snowy white robes of the Martyr, or in the soiled garments of a volunteer in the iniquitous course; for, there are external and internal conditions which affect the determination of our will upon our actions, and it is in our power to follow either of the two.” (I, 639) (Vol. II,  p. 364, 6 vol. ed.; I, p. 700, 3rd ed.)

What inimitable writing! Critics who regard Karma as Fatalism are well answered here: it is clearly pointed out that “man is a free agent during his stay on earth”. It is true that it is also stated that man cannot escape his ruling destiny, since he himself has created that destiny. For he alone set the causes in motion and must follow the reactions or results. Nevertheless, in spite of this, he still has the choice of two paths. No one but the individual himself will decree which of the two paths he will follow, for he has the power of choice. It is not so much the fact that he has to follow his ruling destiny, that is to say, to meet certain conditions of his own making, but it is important how he will react to the conditions in his present life. For he can alter the course that he is taking; also he can create a new pattern for his future life. This is not Fatalism.

The citation continues with another example of the sparkling manner in which H. P. B. wielded her pen–it is one of the celebrated quotations from The Secret Doctrine:

“Those who believe in Karma have to believe in destiny, which, from birth to death, every man is weaving thread by thread around himself, as a spider does his cobweb; and this destiny is guided either by the heavenly voice of the invisible prototype outside of us, or by our more intimate astral, or inner man, who is but too often the evil genius of the embodied entity called man. Both these lead on the outward man, but one of them must. prevail; and from the very beginning of the invisible affray the stern and implacable law of compensation steps in and takes its course, faithfully following the fluctuations. When the last strand is woven, and man is seemingly enwrapped in the network of his own doing, then he finds himself completely under the empire of this self-made destiny. It then either fixes him like the inert shell against the immovable rock; or carries him away like a feather in a whirlwind raised by his own actions, and this is–KARMA.” (I, 639) (Vol. II, p. 364, 6 vol. ed.; I, p. 700-1, 3rd ed.)

The celestial “prototype” has already been described. Notice that it is stated to be “outside of us,” since it does not actually incarnate in man. To use an idea found in the Kabbala, it is stationed in the ovoid sphere which surrounds man. As for the “more intimate astral, or inner man,” this is technically Lower Manas, or Kama-Manas–the mind principle in conjunction with the desire principle–which may be described generalizingly as the personality.

Another celebrated passage on Karma should be given. It is somewhat lengthy, but so clearly presents the Doctrine of Balance, that it is fully worthy of consideration; the theme is so important.

“In the West, since Pagan Wisdom has been repudiated as having grown from and been developed by the dark powers supposed to be at constant war and in opposition to the little tribal Jehovah–the full and awful significance of the Greek NEMESIS (or Karma) has been entirely forgotten.” (I, 642) (Vol. II. p. 367, 6 vol. ed.; I. 704. 3rd ed.)



As to the Greek goddess Nemesis, very little has come down to our day concerning her. She is mentioned in Hesiod (the father of Greek poetry and the first to record Greek mythology) as an avenging goddess representing the righteous anger of the deities to wrong-doing. Hence Nemesis is responsible for the punishment meted out to wrong-doers, who are not able to escape from her in any manner whatsoever. In the next sentence (from the citation) the true concept in regard to Nemesis is explained, which is also applicable to the correct understanding of Karma. It is not Karma that punishes us: we have set in motion causes by means of our actions and these causes react upon us as effects. To continue:

“Otherwise Christians would have better realized the profound truth that Nemesis is without attributes; that while the dreaded goddess is absolute and immutable as a Principle, it is we ourselves—nations and individuals–who propel her to action and give

the impulse to its direction. KARMA-NEMESIS is the creator of nations and mortals, but once created, it is they who make of her either a fury or a rewarding Angel. Yea—

‘Wise are they who worship Nemesis’

–as the chorus tells Prometheus.”

The verse is from Swanwick’s translation of Aeschylus’s “Prometheus Bound,” line 957–the chorus (of the ancient Greek dramas) acting in the role of commentator. A footnote is added saying that it would have been better to translate the verse: “Wise are they who dread Karma-Nemesis.” And the passage continues:

“And as unwise they, who believe that the goddess may be propitiated by whatever sacrifices and prayers, or have her wheel diverted from the path it has once taken. ‘The triform Fates and ever mindful Furies’ are her attributes only on earth, and begotten by ourselves. There is no return from the paths she cycles over; yet those paths are of our own making, for it is we, collectively or individually, who prepare them.” (I, 642-3) (Vol. II. p. 367. 6 vol. ed.; I, 704, 3rd ed.)

The Greeks were not the only ones to portray the Fates as three goddesses. The ancient Scandinavian Eddas represent three divinities as presiding over the destinies of men, depicting them as ancient women, spinning or weaving man’s destiny, and called Norns. The name of the first Norn was Urd, meaning the Past; Werdandi, the second, signified the Present; and the third, Skuld, the Future “which is either rich in hope or dark with tears,” as the Edda has it. The Norns dwell beside the great Yggdrasil–the World-Tree–and the fountain of Urd, and are its custodians. For though Urd was known as the Spring of Fate, it was also the water of Wisdom, or the water of life and death. Yggdrasil is kept ever fresh and green because of the waters given to it daily by the Norns from the Fountain; it will ever remain so, as long as the world lasts.

The “triform Fates” of ancient Greece were known as the Moirai, daughters of Night, thus embodying the mystical idea that they precede the Day (of Activity or Manvantara) just as the Lipikas do, since they “project into objectivity from the passive Universal Mind the ideal plan of the universe”. The goddesses were also called Klothes, meaning the Spinners. The first Spinner is appropriately named Klotho, signifying she who spins–the goddess who commences the thread of man’s life. Here again we find man’s life likened to a thread, analogous to the Sanskrit Sutratman–the Thread-Self. Klotho hands the thread to the second goddess, Lachesis, a name which stands for “the lot,” since it was her function to mete out the destiny on man’s thread. In her turn Klotho passes the thread on to Atropos, “the inflexible one,” she who determines when the thread is to be cut–thus terminating man’s life.

Another name for these deities was that of Parcae, thus associating them with birth goddesses, for the Latin word parere, meaning to bring forth, to be born, is the verbal root from which parcae is derived. It conveys the same idea present in fairy-stories, where fairies preside at the birth of a child and apportion the destiny. This idea was prevalent in late Latin times (cf. Tertullian De Anima 37) in the name of the Fata Scribunda, which may be rendered “the writing fairy,” here again conveying the idea of the writers or recorders of the Karmic Records–the Lipikas.

As for the dread Furies (depicted as having serpents in place of hair), they are subsidiary deities who carry out the decrees of Nemesis in punishing wrong-doers, hence termed the avenging deities, since they may not permit a crime to go unpunished. They were transformed by the great Greek dramatist Aeschylus into Eumenides, “the well-wishing ones,” or rewarding angels, thus bringing to a climax the greatest of his trilogies.

But to continue the exposition of Karma-Nemesis:

“Karma-Nemesis is the synonym of PROVIDENCE, minus design, goodness, and every other finite attribute and qualification, so unphilosophically attributed to the latter. An Occultist or a philosopher will not speak of the goodness or cruelty of Providence; but, identifying it with Karma-Nemesis, he will teach that nevertheless it guards the good and watches over them in this, as in future lives; and that it punishes the evil-doer–aye, even to his seventh rebirth. So long, in short, as the effect of his having thrown into perturbation even the smallest atom in the Infinite World of harmony, has not been finally readjusted. For the only decree of Karma–an eternal and immutable decree–is absolute Harmony in the world of matter as it is in the world of Spirit. It is not, therefore, Karma, that rewards or punishes, but it is we, who reward or punish ourselves according to whether we work with, through and along with nature, abiding by the laws on which that Harmony depends, or—break, them.” (I, 643) (Vol. II. pp. 367-8, 6 vol. ed.; I. 704-5, 3rd ed.)


The key is now provided as to how man should act:

“Nor would the ways of Karma be inscrutable were men to work in union and harmony, instead of disunion and strife. For our ignorance of those ways–which one portion of mankind calls the ways of Providence, dark and intricate; while another sees in them the action of blind Fatalism; and a third, simple chance, with neither gods nor devils to guide them–would surely disappear, if we would but attribute all these to their correct cause. With right knowledge, or at any rate with a confident conviction that our neighbors will no more work to hurt us than we would think of harming them, the two-thirds of the World’s evil would vanish into thin air. Were no man to hurt his brother, Karma-Nemesis would have neither cause to work for, nor weapons to act through. It is the constant presence in our midst of every element of strife and opposition, and the division of races, nations, tribes, societies and individuals into Cains and Abels, wolves and lambs, that is the chief cause of the ‘ways of Providence’, We cut these numerous windings in our destinies daily with our own hands, while we imagine that we are pursuing a track on the royal high road of respectability and duty, and then complain of those ways being so intricate and so dark.”

Now follows a veritable gem. The suggestion is offered that it be read slowly, and then read again, and memorized:

“We stand bewildered before the mystery of our own making, and the riddles of life that we will not solve, and then accuse the great Sphinx of devouring us. But verily there is not an accident in our lives, not a misshapen day, or a misfortune, that could not be traced back to our own doings in this or in another life.”

H. P. B. gives one more short explanation of Karma-Nemesis which is most helpful; but before doing so, tosses out a witticism, so characteristic of her facile pen:

“Therefore, if anyone is helpless before these immutable laws, it is not ourselves, the artificers of our destinies, but rather those angels, the guardians of harmony. Karma-Nemesis is no more than the (spiritual) dynamical effect of causes produced and forces awakened into activity by our own actions.”

Next follows a passage which is well worth remembering when no apparent progress is being made in the “world of matter,” or the physical plane, and gives the clue where we should centre our endeavors. Following this, some very practical advice is given:

“It is a law of occult dynamics that ‘a given amount of energy expended on the spiritual or astral plane is productive of far greater results than the same amount expended on the physical objective plane of existence.’

“This state will last till man’s spiritual intuitions are fully opened, which will not happen before we fairly cast off our thick coats of matter; until we begin acting from within, instead of ever following impulses from without; namely, those produced by our physical senses and gross selfish body. Until then the only palliative to the evils of life is union and harmony–a Brotherhood IN ACTU, and altruism not simply in name. The suppression of one single bad cause will suppress not one, but a variety of bad effects.”

The citation next includes a couplet from Dryden:

“Knowledge of Karma gives the conviction that if–

‘. . . virtue in distress, and vice in triumph

Make atheists of mankind,’

it is only because that mankind has ever shut its eyes to the great truth that man is himself his own saviour as his own destroyer.” (I, 643-4) (Vol. II, pp. 368-9, 6 vol. ed.; I, 705-6, 3rd ed.)




Annie Besant

Three Lectures delivered at the Eighth Annual Conven­tion

of the Indian Section of the Theosophical Society,

Held at Varanasi (Benares) on October 25th, 26th and 27th, 1898.

The Theosophical Publishing House,

Fourth Edition 1918

Adyar, Madras 600 020, India


WHEN the nations of the earth were sent forth one after the other, a special word was given by God to each, the word which each was to say to the world, the peculiar word from the Eternal which each one was to speak. As we glance over the history of the nations, we can hear resounding from the collective mouth of the people this word, spoken out in action, the contribution of that nation to the ideal and perfect humanity. To Egypt in old days, the word was Religion; to Persia the word was Purity; to Chaldea the word was Science; to Greece the word was Beauty; to Rome the word was Law; and to India, the eldest-born of His children, to India He gave a word that summed up the whole in one, the word Dharma. That is the word of India to the world.

But we cannot speak this word, so full of meaning, so vast in its out-reaching force, without making our bow at the feet of him who is the greatest embodiment of Dharma that the world has ever seen – our bow to Bhishma, the son of Ganga, the mightiest incarnation of Duty. Come with me for a while, traveling five-thousand years back in time, and see this hero, lying on his bed of arrows on the field of [page 1] Kurukshetra, there holding Death at bay, until the right hour should strike. We pass through heaps upon heaps of the slaughtered warriors, over mountains of dead elephants and horses, and we pass by many a funeral pyre, many a heap of broken weapons and chariots. We come to the hero lying on the bed of arrows, transfixed with hundreds of arrows and his head resting on a pillow of arrows. Far he has rejected the pillows they brought him of soft down, and accepted only the arrowy pillow made by Arjuna. He, perfect in Dharma, had, while still a youth, for the sake of his father, for the sake of the duty that he owed to his father, for the sake of the love he bore to his father, made that great vow of renouncing family life, renouncing the crown, in order that the father’s will might be done, and the father’s heart be satisfied. And Shantanu gave him his blessing, that wondrous boon, that Death should not come to him until he came at his own command, until he willed to die. When he fell, pierced by hundreds of arrows, the sun has in his southern path, and the season was not favourable for the death of one who was not to return any more. He used the power that his father had given him, and made Death stand aside until the sun should open up the way to eternal peace and liberation. As he lay there for many a weary day, racked with the agonies of his wounds, tortured by the anguish of the mangled body that he wore, there came around him many Rishis and the remnants of the Aryan kings, and thither came also [2] Shri Krishna, to see the faithful one. Thither came the five princes, the sons of Pandu, the victors in the mighty war, and they stood round him weeping and worshipping him, and longing to be taught by him. To him, in the midst of that bitter anguish, came the words from One whose lips were the lips of God, and He released him from the burning fever, and He gave him bodily rest and clearness of mind and quietness of the inner man, and then He bade him teach to the world what Dharma is – he whose whole life had taught it, who had not swerved from the path of righteousness, who whether as son, or prince, or statesman, or warrior, had always trodden the narrow path. He was asked for teaching by those who were around him, and Vasudeva bade him speak of Dharma, because he was fit to teach (Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, § LIV).

Then there drew closer round him the sons of Pandu, headed by their eldest brother Yudhishthira, who was the leader of the host that had brought Bhishma to his death; and he was afraid of coming near and asking questions, thinking that as the arrows were really his, being shot for his cause, he was guilty of the blood of his elder, and he ought not to ask to be taught. Seeing his hesitation, Bhishma, whose mind was ever balanced, who had trodden the difficult path of duty without being moved to the right hand or the left, spoke the memorable words: “As the duty of Brahmanas consists in the practice of charity, study, and penance, so the duty of Kshattriyas [3] is to cast away their bodies in battle. A Kshattriya should slay sires and grandsires and brothers and preceptors and relatives and kinsmen, that may engage with him in unjust battle. This is their declared duty. That Kshattriya, O Keshava, is said to be acquainted with his duty who slays in battle his very preceptors, if they happen to be sinful and covetous and disregardful of restraints and vows. . . . . . Ask me, O child, without any anxiety”. Then, just as Vasudeva, in speaking of Bhishma, had described Bhishma’s right to speak as teacher, so Bhishma himself in turn, in addressing the princes, described the qualities that were needed in those who would ask questions on the problem of Dharma:

“Let the son of Pandu, in whom are intelligence, self-restraint, brahmacharya, forgiveness, righteousness, mental vigor and energy, put questions to me. Let the son of Pandu, who always by his good offices honors his relatives and guests and servants and others that are dependent on him, put questions to me. Let the son of Pandu, in whom are truth and charity and penances, heroism, peacefulness, cleverness and fearlessness, put questions to me.” (Ibid. § LIV.).

Such are some of the characteristics of the man who may seek to understand the mysteries of Dharma. Such are the qualities which you and I must try to develop, if we are to understand the teachings, if we are to be worthy to enquire. [4]

Then began that wonderful discourse, without parallel among the discourses of the world. It treats of the duties of Kings and of subjects, the duties of the four orders, of the four modes of life, duties for every kind of man, duties distinct from each other and suited to every stage of evolution. Every one of you ought to know that great discourse, ought to study it, not only for its literary beauty, but for its moral grandeur. If we could but follow on the path traced by Bhishma, then would our evolution quicken, then would the day of India’s redemption draw nearer to its dawn.

With regard to morality – a subject closely bound up with Dharma, and which cannot be understood without a knowledge of what is meant by Dharma – with regard to morality, some think that it is a simple thing. So it is in its broad outlines. The boundaries of right and wrong in the common actions of life are clear, simple, and definite. For a man of small development, for a man of narrow intelligence, for a man of restricted knowledge, morality seems simple enough. But for those of deep knowledge and high intelligence, for those who are evolving towards the higher grades of humanity, for those who desire to understand its mysteries, for them morality is very difficult: “Morality is very subtle,” as the prince Yudhishthira said when he was dealing with the problem of the marriage of Draupadi with the five sons of Pandu. And one greater than that prince had spoken of the difficulty; Shri Krishna, [5] the Avatara, in His discourse delivered on the field of Kurukshetra, spoke on this very question of the difficulty of action. He said:

What is action, what inaction? Even the wise are hereby perplexed. It is needful to discriminate action, to discriminate unlawful action, to discriminate inaction; mysterious is the path of action.” (Bhagavad Gita, iv. 16-17.).

Mysterious is the path of action; mysterious, because morality is not, as the simple-minded think, one and the same for all; because it varies with the Dharma of the individual. What is right for one, is wrong for another. And what is wrong for one is right for another. Morality is an individual thing, and it depends upon the Dharma of the man who is acting, and not upon what is sometimes called “absolute right and wrong”. There is nothing absolute in a conditioned universe. And right and wrong are relative, and must be judged in relation to the individual and his duties. Thus the greatest of all Teachers said with regard to Dharma – and this will guide us in our tangled path – “Better one’s own Dharma, though destitute of merit, than the Dharma of another, well discharged. Better death in the discharge of one’s own Dharma; the Dharma of another is full of danger.” (Ibid. iv. 35.).

He repeated the same thought again at the end of that immortal discourse, and He said – but then changed in such a way as to throw fresh light on the subject: “Better is one’s own Dharma, though [6] destitute of merits, than the well executed Dharma of another. He who doeth the Karma laid down by his own nature incurreth not sin” (Ibid. xviii. 47.). There He expounds more fully this teaching, and He traces for us one by one the Dharma of the four great castes, and the very wording that He uses shows us the meaning of this word, which is sometimes translated as Duty, sometimes as Law, sometimes as Righteousness, sometimes as Religion. It means these, and more than any of them, for the meaning is deeper and wider than any of thee words expresses. Let us take the words of Shri Krishna when speaking of the Dharma of the four castes: “Of Brahmanas, Kshattriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, O Parantapa, the Karmas have been distributed, according to the gunas born of their own natures. Serenity, self­restraint, austerity, purity, forgiveness and also uprightness; wisdom, knowledge, belief in God, are the Brahmana-Karma, born of his own nature. Prowess, splendour, firmness, dexterity, and also not flying from battle, generosity, the nature of a ruler, are the Kshattriya-Karma, born of his own nature. Ploughing, protection of kine, and trade are the Vaishya-Karma, born of his own nature. Action of the nature of service is the Shudra-Karma, born of his own nature. Man reacheth perfection by each being intent on his own Karma”.

Then he goes on to say: “Better one’s own Dharma, though destitute of merit, than the well executed Dharma of another. He who doeth the [7] Karma laid down by his own nature incurreth not sin.

See how the two words Dharma and Karma are interchanged. They give us the key which we shall use to unlock our problem. Let me give you first a partial definition of Dharma. I cannot make the whole definition clear at once. I will give you the first half of it, dealing with the second half when we come to it. The first half is that “Dharma is the inner nature, which has reached in each man a certain stage of development and unfolding”. It is this inner nature which moulds the outer life, which is expressed by thoughts, words, and actions, the inner nature which is born into the environment suited for its further growth. The first idea to grasp is that Dharma is not an outer thing, like the law, or righteousness, or religion, or justice. It is the law of the unfolding life, which moulds all outside it to the expression of itself.

Now in trying to trace out this difficult and abstruse subject, I will treat it under three main divisions. First, Differences, for people have different Dharmas. Even in the passage quoted, four great classes are mentioned. Looking more closely, each individual man has his own Dharma. How shall we understand these? Unless we grasp something of the nature of difference; why they came to be, why they should exist, and what me mean when we speak of differences; unless we understand how each man shows by his thoughts, words, and actions, the [8] stage he has reached; unless we grasp this, we cannot understand Dharma. Then secondly, we shall have to deal with Evolution. For we must trace these differences as they evolve. Lastly, we must deal with the problem of Right and Wrong, for the whole of our study leads up to the answer to the question. “How should a man conduct his life?” It would not be worth while to ask you to follow me, into difficult regions of thought, unless in the end we are to turn our knowledge to good account, and try to lead lives according to Dharma, thus giving to the world that which India was meant to teach.

In what does the perfection of a Universe consist? When we begin to think over a universe and what we mean by it, we find we mean a vast number of separated objects working together more or less harmoniously. Variety is the keynote of the universe, as unity is the note of the Unmanifest, of the Unconditioned – the One without a second. Diversity is the note of the manifested and conditioned – the result of the will to become many.

When a Universe is to come into existence, we learn, the First Cause, the Eternal, the Inconceivable, the Indiscernible, the Subtle, shines forth by His own Will. What that shining forth may mean within Himself none may dare to guess. What it means on the side from which we regard it, that to some extent may be grasped. Ishvara comes forth, but He, coming forth, appears enwrapped in the veil of Maya – there are two sides of the Supreme in manifestation. Many [9] words have been used to express that fundamental pair of opposites: Ishvara and Maya, Sat and Asat, Reality and Unreality, Spirit and Matter, Life and Form. These are words which we, in our limited language, use to express that which is well-nigh beyond the grasp of thinking. All that we can say is: “Thus have the Sages taught us, and thus we in humility repeat”.

Ishvara and Maya. What is the universe to he? It is the image of Ishvara reflected in Maya – the perfected image of Ishvara, as He has chosen to condition Himself for this particular universe whose birth-hour is come. His image – limited, conditioned. His Self-conditioned image, the universe is in perfection to declare. But how shall that which is limited, that which is partial, image Ishvara? By the multiplicity of parts working together in one harmonious whole; infinite variety of differences, and the manifold combinations of each with each, shall speak forth the law of the divine thought, until the whole thought is expressed in the totality of that perfected Universe. You should try to catch some glimpse of what this means. Let us together seek to understand.

Ishvara thinks of Beauty; at once His mighty energy, all-potent, generative, strikes upon Maya and develops it into myriad forms of objects that we call beautiful. It touches the matter that is ready to be moulded – for example, water; and the water takes on a million forms of Beauty. We see one in the vast expanse of ocean, still and tranquil, where no wind is [10] blowing, and where the sky is mirrored in its deep bosom. Then we catch another form of Beauty, when the wind lashes it into billows upon billows, and abyss beneath abyss, till the whole mass is terrible in its fury and grandeur. Then a new form of Beauty comes forth from it, and the raging and the foaming waters are hushed, and the ocean is changed into myriad-ripples, glittering and glistening under the moon which shines upon them, her rays broken and bent into a thousand coruscations. And this gives us another hint of what Beauty means. And then we look at the ocean where no land limits the horizon and where the vast expanse is unbroken, and again we stand on the shore and see the waves breaking at our feet. With every change of mood of the sea, its waters speak out a new thought of Beauty. Another glimpse of the thought of Beauty thrown into water we see in the mountain lake, in the stillness and serenity of its quiet bosom; and in the stream that leaps from rock to rock; and in the torrent that dashes itself into millions of spray-drops, catching and refracting the sunlight into all the hues of the rainbow. So from water in every shape and form, from the tossing ocean to the frozen iceberg, from the foggy mists to the gorgeously coloured clouds, bursts forth the thought of Beauty impressed upon it by Ishvara, when the word came forth from Him. When we leave the water, we learn new thoughts of beauty in the tender creeper, in its mass of brilliant colours, [11] in the stronger plant and the sturdier oak, and the dark obscurity of forest depths. New thoughts of Beauty come to us from the face of every mountain peak, and from the vast, rolling prairie where the earth seems to break into new possibilities of life, from the sand of the desert, from the green of the meadow. If we are tired of the earth, the telescope brings to our view the Beauty of myriads of suns, rushing and rolling through the depths of space. Then the microscope reveals to our wondering gaze the Beauty of the infinitely small, as the telescope does of the infinitely great: and thus a new door is opened to us for the contemplation of Beauty. Around us we have thousands and millions of objects that are all beautiful. From the grace of the animal, from the strength of man, from the supple charm of woman, from the dimples of the laughing children, from all these things we catch some glimpses of what the thought of Beauty is in the mind of Ishvara.

In this fashion we may sense something of the way in which His thought broke into myriad forms of splendour, when He spoke as Beauty to the world. The same is the case with Strength, Energy, Harmony, Music, and so on. You grasp, then, why there should be variety: because no limited thing may fully tell Him, because no limited form may fully express Him. But as each becomes perfect of its kind; all combined may partly reveal Him. Thus the perfection of the Universe is perfection in variety and in the harmony of interrelated parts. [12]

Having reached that conception, we begin to see that the Universe can only gain perfection by each part performing its own function, and developing completely its own share of life. If the tree tries to imitate the mountain, or the water to imitate the earth, each would miss its own beauty and fail to show that of the other. The perfection of the body does not depend upon every cell doing the work of the other cells, but in each cell doing its own part perfectly. We have brain, lungs, heart, digestive organs, and so on. If the brain tried to do the work of the heart, and the lungs tried to digest food, then the body would indeed be in a melancholy condition. The health of the body is secured by each organ doing its own part. We thus realize that as the universe develops, each part is going along the road which is marked out by the law of its own life. The image of Ishvara in nature will never be perfect, until each part is complete in itself and in its relations to the others.

How can these innumerable differences arise? How can all these differences come into existence? How does the Universe, as it evolves as a whole, stand in relation to its parts evolving each on its separate line? We are told that Ishvara, expressing himself on the Prakriti side shows forth three qualities – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. No English words are equivalent to or can satisfactorily translate these. I may however, for the moment translate Tamas as inertia, the quality that does not move, that gives [13] stability; Rajas is the quality of energy and motion; and Sattva is perhaps best expressed by harmony the quality of pleasure-giving, as all pleasure springs from harmony and only harmony can give it. Then we learn that these three gunas are further modified in seven kinds of ways, seven great lines, as it were, along which innumerable combinations evolve. Every religion speaks of this sevenfold division, every religion proclaims its existence. In Hinduism, they are the five great elements and the two beyond. These are the seven Purushas of whom Manu speaks.

These three gunas combine and divide, arranging themselves into seven great groups, from which arise vast numbers of things by various combinations; remember that into each separate thing each of these qualities enters in different proportions, modified in one of the seven fundamental ways.

From this primary difference brought over from a Universe of the past – for world is linked to world and Universe to Universe – we find that the down­pouring life divided and subdivided itself as it fell into matter, till, reaching the circumference of the mighty circle, it rolled back upon itself. Evolution begins at the turning-point, where the wave of life begins to return to Ishvara. The previous stage is the stage of involution, during which this life is becoming involved in matter; in evolution it is unfolding the powers that it contains. We may quote Manu where he says that Ishvara placed His seed in the mighty waters. The life which Ishvara [14] gave was not a developed life, but a life capable of development. Everything exists in germ at first. As the parent gives his life to generate the child, and as that life-seed is built up through many combinations, until it reaches birth, and then year after year, through childhood, youth and manhood, until maturity is reached, and the image of the father is seen again in the son; so does the Eternal Father, when He places the seed in the womb of matter, give the life, but it is not yet evolved. Then it begins its up-climbing, bringing out one phase after another of the life that it is gradually becoming able to express.

As we study the Universe, we find that its varieties differ in their age. This is a thought which bears upon our problem. This world was not brought into its present condition by one creative word. Slowly and gradually and by prolonged meditation did Brahma make the world. One after another living forms came forth. One after another the seeds of life were sown. If you look at any Universe at any point of time, you will find that the variety of that Universe has Time for its chief factor. The age of the developing germ will mark the stage at which that germ has arrived. In a Universe, at one and the same time, there are germs of various ages and stages of development. There are germs younger than minerals, making what are called elemental kingdoms. The developing germs called the mineral kingdom are older than these. Germs evolving as the vegetable world are older than those of the [15] mineral, that is, they have a longer stretch of evolution behind them; the animals are germs with a yet longer past, and the germs we call humanity have the longest past of all.

Each great class has this diversity as to its beginning in time. So also the separated individual life in one man – not the essential life, but the individual and separated life – is different from that of another, and we differ in the age of our individual existences as we differ in the age of our bodies. The life is one – one life in all; but it is infolded at different stages of time, as regards the starting-point of the seed that there is growing. You should grasp that idea clearly. When a Universe comes to its ending, there will be present in it entities at every stage of growth. I have already said that world is linked to world, and Universe linked to Universe. Some units at the beginning will be at an early stage of evolution; some will be ready to expand ere long into the consciousness of God. In that Universe, when its life-period is over, there will be all the differences of growth dependent upon differences in time. There is one life in all, but the stage of unfoldment of a particular life depends upon the time through which it has been separately evolving. There you grasp the very root of our problem – one life, undying, eternal, infinite as to its source and goal; but that life manifesting itself in different grades of evolution and at different stages of unfoldment, different, amounts of its inherent power showing forth [16] according to the age of the separated life. Those are the two thoughts to grasp, and then you can take the other portion of the definition of Dharma.

Dharma may now be defined as the “inner nature of a thing at any given stage of evolution, and the law of the next stage of its unfolding” – the nature at the point it has reached in unfolding, and then the law which brings about its next stage of unfolding. The nature itself marks out the point in evolution it has reached; then comes what it must do in order to evolve further along its road. Take those two thoughts together, and then you will understand why perfection must be reached by following one’s own Dharma. My Dharma is the stage of evolution which my nature has reached in unfolding the seed of divine life which is myself, plus the law of life according to which the next stage is to be performed by me. It belongs to this separated self. I must know the stage of my growth, and I must know the law which will enable me to grow further; then I know my Dharma, and by following that Dharma I am going towards perfection.

It is clear then, realizing what this means, why we should each of us study this present condition and this next stage. If we do not know the present stage, we must be ignorant of the next stage which we should aim at, and we may be going against our Dharma and thus delaying our evolution. Or, knowing both, we may work with our Dharma and quicken our evolution. Here comes a great pitfall. [17] We see that a thing is good, noble and great, and we long to accomplish in ourselves that thing. Is it for us the next stage of evolution? Is it the thing which the law of our unfolding life demands, in order that that life may unfold harmoniously? Our immediate aim is not that which is best in itself, but that which is best for us in our present stage, and carries us one step onward. Take a child. There is no doubt that if you take a woman-child, she has before her a future nobler, higher, and more beautiful than the present when she is playing with her dolls; she will be a mother with a baby in her arms instead of a doll; for that is the ideal of perfect womanhood – the mother with the child. But while that is the ideal of a perfect woman, to grasp at that ideal before the time is ripe will do harm and not good. Everything must come in its proper time and place. If that mother is to be developed to the perfection of womanhood, and is to be mother of a family, healthy, strong, able to bear the pressure of the great life-stream, then there must be the period when that child must play with her dolls, must learn lessons, must develop the body. But if, thinking that motherhood is higher and nobler than play, that motherhood should be grasped before its time, and a child be born from a child, the babe suffers, the mother suffers, the nation suffers; and this because the season has not been regarded, the law of unfolding life is violated. All sorts of suffering arise from grasping the fruit ere the fruit is ripe. [18]

I take that example because it is a striking one. It will help you to see why our own Dharma is better for us than the well executed Dharma of another that is not in the line of our unfolding life. That lofty post may be for us in the future, but the time must come, the fruit must ripen. Pluck it ere it is ripe, and your teeth are set on edge. Let it remain on the tree, obeying the law of time and sequential evolution, and the soul will grow according to the power of an endless life.

That then gives us another key to the problem – function is in relation to power. Function grasped before power is developed is mischievous in the extreme to the organism. So we learn the lessons of patience and of waiting on the Good Law. You might judge the progress of a man by his willingness to work with nature and to submit to the law. That is why Dharma is spoken of as law, and sometimes as duty; for both these ideas grow out of the root-thought that it is the inner nature at a given stage of evolution and the law of the next stage of its development. This explains why morality is relative, why duty must differ for every soul, according to the stage of its evolution. When we come to apply this to questions of right and wrong, we shall find that we can solve some of the subtlest problems of morality by dealing with them on this principle. In a conditioned universe, absolute right and wrong are not to be found, but only relative rights and wrongs. The absolute is in Ishvara alone, where it will for ever be found. [19]

Differences are thus necessary for our conditioned consciousness. We think by differences, we feel by differences, and we know by differences. It is only by differences that we know that we are living and thinking men. Unity makes on consciousness no impression. Differences and diversities – those are the things which make the growth of consciousness possible. The unconditioned consciousness is beyond our thinking. We can only think within the limits of the separated and the conditioned.

We can now see how differences in nature come to be, how the time factor comes in, and how, though all have the same nature and will reach the same goal, yet there are differences in the stages of manifestation, and therefore in the laws appropriate for every stage. That is what we need to grasp tonight, before we deal with the complex problem, how this inner nature develops. Truly difficult is the subject, yet the mysteries of the path of action may be cleared for us as we grasp the underlying law, as we recognise the principle of the unfolding life.

May He, who gave Dharma to India as her keynote, illuminate with His unfolding and immortal life, with His light effulgent and unchangeable, these dark minds of ours that dimly try to grasp His law; for only as His blessing falls upon the suppliant seeker, will His law be understood by the mind, will His law be engraven in the heart. [20]

Lecture 2: EVOLUTION

WE shall deal this evening with the second section of the subject commenced yesterday. You may remember I divided the subject under three heads, for the sake of convenience – Differences, Evolution, and the problem of Right and Wrong. Yesterday we studied the question of Differences – how it came to pass that different men had different Dharmas. I will venture to remind you of the definition of Dharma we adopted; that it means the inner nature, marked by the stage of evolution, plus the law of growth for the next stage of evolution. I will ask you to keep that definition in your minds, for without it you will not be able to apply Dharma to what we are to study under the third division of the subject.

Under the head “Evolution”, we are to study the way in which the germ of life evolves to the perfect image of God, remembering that we found that that image of God could only be represented by the totality of the numerous objects making up the universe in their details, and that the perfection of the individual depended on the completeness with which he fulfilled his own part in the stupendous whole.

Before we can understand evolution, we must find its spring and motive – a life which involves itself in [21] matter, before it evolves complicated organisms of every kind. We start with the principle that all is from and in God. Nothing in the universe is to be excluded from Him. No life save His life, no force save His force, no energy save His energy, no forms save His forms – all are the results of His thought. That is our fundamental position. That is the ground on which we must stand, daring to accept everything that it implies, daring to recognise everything that it connotes. “The seed of all beings,” says Shri Krishna, speaking as the supreme Ishvara, “that am I, O Arjuna! nor is there aught, moving or unmoving, that may exist bereft of Me” (Bhagavad-Gita, x. 39.). Do not let us fear to take that central position. Do not, because of the imperfection of the evolving lives, let us shrink from any conclusion to which this truth may lead us.

In another shloka He said: “I am the gambling of the cheat, and the splendour of splendid things I” (x. 36.). What is the meaning of these words that sound so strange? What is the explanation of this phrase which appears almost as profanity? Not only in this discourse do we find this position enunciated, but we find that Manu teaches exactly the same truth: “From Himself He produces the universe”. The life coming forth from the Supreme puts on veil after veil of Maya, in which that life is to evolve all the perfections that lie latent within it.

Now the first question is: Does not this life, which comes from Ishvara, already contain within itself everything already developed, every manifested power, every possibility realized as actuality? The answer to that question, spoken over and over again, in symbols, allegories, and distinct words, is “No”. It contains everything in potency, but nothing at first in manifestation. It contains everything in germ, but nothing at first as developed organism. The seed is that which is placed in the mighty waters of matter, the germ alone is given forth by the Life of the World. Those germs, which come from the life of Ishvara, evolve – step by step, stage after stage, on one rung of a ladder after another – all the powers that reside in the generating Father, the name that Ishvara gives to Himself in the Gita. He declares once more: “My womb is the Mahat-Brahma; in that I place the germ; thence cometh the production of all beings, O Bharata. In whatsoever wombs mortals are produced, O Kaunteya, the Mahat-Brahma is their womb, I their generating Father” (xiv. 3-4.). From that seed – from that germ containing everything in possibility but nothing as yet in manifestation – from that seed is to evolve a life, stage by stage, rising higher and higher, until at last a centre of consciousness is formed capable of expanding to the consciousness of Ishvara, while remaining as a centre still, with the power to come forth as a new Logos, or Ishvara, for the production of a new universe.

Let us take this vast sweep of thought in detail. Life involved in matter – that is our beginning. These germs of life, these myriad seeds, or to use the [23] Upanishadic phrase, these numberless sparks, all come forth from the one Flame which is the supreme Brahman. Qualities are now to be brought out of these seeds. Those qualities are powers, but powers manifested through matter. One by one those powers will be brought out – powers which are the life of Ishvara as veiled in Maya. Slow is the growth in the early stages, hidden as the seed underground is hidden, when first it strikes its root downward, and sends its tender offshoot upward in order that later on the growing tree may appear. In silence germinates this divine seed, and the early beginnings are hidden in darkness, like the roots under the ground.

This power in the life, or rather these innumerable powers which Ishvara manifests in order that the universe may be, these myriad powers are at first unapparent in the germ – no sign of the mighty possibilities, no trace of what it is hereafter to become. A word is spoken as to this manifestation in matter, which throws much light on the subject, if we can grasp its inner and subtler meaning. Shri Krishna, speaking of His lower Prakriti, or inferior manifestation, says: “Earth, water, fire, air, ether, Manas and Buddhi also and Ahamkara – these are the eight­fold divisions of My Prakriti. This the inferior”. Then He says what is His higher Prakriti: “Know My other Prakriti, the higher, the life-element, O mighty­armed, by which the universe is upheld” (vii. 4, 5.). Then a little later, separated by many shlokas, so that sometimes the connecting link is missed, other [24] words are spoken: “This divine Maya of Mine, guna-made, is hard to pierce; they who come to Me they cross over this Maya” (vii. 14.). This Yoga-Maya is, truly, hard to pierce; many do not discover Him involved in Maya, so hard to pierce it is, so difficult to discover. “Those without Buddhi think of Me, the unmanifest, as having manifestation; knowing not My supreme nature, imperishable, most excellent. Nor am I of all discovered, enveloped in My Yoga-Maya” (vii. 24, 25.). Then He further declares that by His unmanifested life it is that the universe is pervaded. The life-element, or higher Prakriti, is unmanifested, the lower Prakriti is manifested. Then He says: “From the unmanifested all the manifested stream forth at the coming of day; at the coming of night they dissolve, even in That called the unmanifested” (viii: 18.). This occurs over and over again. Then further on He declares: “Therefore verily there existeth, higher than that unmanifested, another unmanifested, eternal, which, in the destroying of all beings, is not destroyed” (viii. 20.). There is a subtle distinction between Ishvara and the image of Himself which He sends forth. The image is the reflected unmanifest, but Himself is the higher unmanifest, the eternal that never is destroyed.

Realizing that, we come to the drawing out of powers. Here we begin really our evolution. The outpouring life was involved in matter, in order to bring the seed into the matter-surrounded conditions which should make evolution possible. When we [25] come to the first germinating of the seed, our difficulty comes in. For we must throw ourselves, in thought, to the time when there was no reason in this embryonic self, no imaginative faculty, no memory, no judgment, none of the conditioned faculties of the mind that we know of; when all the life that was manifested was that which we find in the mineral kingdom, with the lowest conditions of consciousness. The minerals manifest consciousness by their attractions and repulsions, by their holding together of particles, by their affinities for each other, by their repellings of each other, but they show none of that consciousness that can be called the recognition of the “I” and the “not-I”.

In every one of these lowest forms in the mineral kingdom, Ishvara’s life is beginning to unfold. Not only is the germ of life there evolving, but He, in all His might and power, is there in every atom of His universe. His the moving life which makes evolution inevitable. His the force expanding gently the walls of matter, with immense patience and watching love, in order that they may not break under the strain. God, Himself the Father of the life, holds that life within Himself as Mother, unfolding the seed unto the likeness of Himself, never impatient, never hurrying, willing to give as much time from the countless ages as the little germ may require. Time is nothing to Ishvara, for He is eternal and to Him all Is. It is the perfection of manifestation that He seeks, and there is no hurrying in His [26] work. And we shall see, later on, how this infinite patience works out. The man, who is to be the image of his Father, shows within him the reflection of the Self with which he is one, and whence he came.

The life is to be awakened, but how? By blows, by vibrations, the inner essence is called into activity. Life is stirred to activity by vibrations that touch it from outside. These myriad seeds of life, not yet conscious of themselves, matter-enveloped, are thrown against each other in the myriad processes of nature; but “nature” is only the garment of God, is only the lowest manifestation in which He shows Himself on the material plane. These forms strike against each other, shaking thus the outer shells of matter in which the life is involved, and the life within gives a quiver as the blow is delivered.

Now the nature of the blow is of no importance. All that is important is that the blow shall be strong. Any experience is useful. Anything which strikes that shell so forcibly that the life within quivers in response is all that is wanted at first. The life within must be made to quiver. That will awaken some dawning power in the life. At first it is only a quiver within itself, and nothing more than a quiver, with no result on its outer shell. But as blow after blow is repeated, and vibration after vibration sends in its earthquake shocks, the life within sends out, through its own enveloping shell, a thrill of answer. The blow has provoked an answer. Another stage is thus touched – the answer comes [27] forth from the hidden life and goes out beyond the shell. This goes on through the mineral kingdom and the vegetable kingdom. In the vegetable kingdom the answers to the vibrations caused by contact begin to show a new power of the life – sensation. The life begins to show out in itself what we call “feeling”; that is, different answers are given to pleasure and to pain. Pleasure is fundamentally harmonious. All that gives pleasure is harmonious. All that gives pain is discordant. Think of music. Rhythmical notes, struck together as a chord, give to the ear a sensation of pleasure. But if you strike your finger on the strings without paying attention to the notes, you make a discord, which gives pain to the ear. That which is true of music is true everywhere. Health is harmony, disease is discord. Strength is harmony, weakness is discord. Beauty is harmony, ugliness is discord. All through nature pleasure means the answer of a sentient being to vibrations that are harmonious and rhythmical, and pain means its answer to those that are discordant and unrhythmical. The rhythmical vibrations make an outward channel through which the life can expand, and this pouring forth is “pleasure”; the unrhythmical close up the channels and frustrate the forth-pouring, and this frustration is “pain”.* [ * The student should work out in detail this fundamental principle; he will thereby much clarify his thoughts.] The forth-pouring of life towards objects is what we name “desire”; hence pleasure becomes the gratification [28] of desire. This difference begins to make itself felt in the vegetable kingdom. A blow comes that is harmonious. The life answers to that in harmonious vibrations and expands, feeling in that expansion “pleasure”. A blow comes that is a jangle. Life answers to that discordantly, is checked, and feels in that check “pain”. The blows are given over and over again, and not until the repetition has occurred a myriad times does a recognition of the distinction between the two begin to arise in that imprisoned life. Only by making distinctions is our consciousness, as at present constituted, able to distinguish objects from each other. Take a very common illustration. Let a piece of money lie in the palm of the hand and close your fingers round it; you feel it; but as the pressure is continued, without any variation, the sensation of feeling in the hand disappears and you do not know that your hand is not empty. Move a finger and you feel the money; keep the hand still, and the sensation vanishes. Thus consciousness can only know things by differences. And when difference is eliminated, consciousness ceases to respond.

We come to the next thing which is manifested as the life evolves through the animal kingdom. Pleasure and pain are now acutely felt, and a germ of recognition, connecting objects and sensations, begins; we call it “perception”. What does this mean? It means that the life develops the power of forming a link between the object that impresses it [29] and the sensation by which it responds to the object. When that dawning life, contacting an external object, knows it as an object that gives pleasure or pain, then we say that the object is perceived, and the faculty of perception, or the making of links between the outer and the inner worlds, is evolved when that is established; mental power begins to germinate and to grow within that organism; we find it in the higher animals.

Let us take it in the savage man, where we shall be able to pass more rapidly over these early stages. We find the consciousness of “I” and “not-I” slowly establishing itself in him – the two going together. “Not-I” touches him, and “I” feels it; “not-I” gives him pleasure, and “I” knows it; “not-I” gives him pain, and “I” suffers it. A distinction is now being made between the feeling, thought of as “I”, and all that causes it, thought of as “not-I”. Here commences intelligence, and the root of self-consciousness is beginning to develop. That is, a centre is being formed, to which everything goes in and from which everything comes out.

I spoke of repetition of vibrations, and now repetition produces results more rapidly. As repetition causes the perception of pleasure-giving objects, the next stage is developed, the expectation of pleasure before the contact takes place. The object is recognised as one that has given pleasure on previous occasions; a repetition of the pleasure is expected, [30] and that expectation is the dawn of memory and the beginning of imagination, the interweaving of intellect with desire. Because the object has given pleasure before, it is expected to give pleasure again. Thus expectation brings into manifestation another germinating quality of the mind. When we have the recognition of the object and the expectation of pleasure from its return, the next stage is the making and vivifying of a mental image of that object – the memory of it – thus causing an outflow of desire, desire to have that object, a longing for that object, and finally a going forth in search of that object that gives pleasurable sensation. Thus the man becomes full of active desires. He desires pleasure, and is moved to seek it by the mind. For a long time he had remained in the animal stage, when he would never seek for a thing unless the actual sensation in his inner body made him want something that the outer world alone could satisfy. Just for one moment return to the animal; think what stirs the animal to action. A craving to get rid of an unpleasant sensation. He feels hunger, he desires food, and he goes in search of it; he feels thirst, he desires to quench it, and he goes in search of water. Thus he always goes in search of the object that will gratify the desire. Give him the gratification of desire and he is quiet. There is no self-initiated motion in the animal. The push must come from outside. True, the hunger is in the inner body, but that is outside the centre of consciousness. The evolution of [31] consciousness may be traced by the proportion which the outside stimulus to action bears to the self-initiated stimulus. The lower consciousness is stimulated to activity by impulses coming from outside itself. The higher consciousness is stimulated to activity by motion initiated within.

Now as we deal with our savage man, we find that the gratification of desire is the law of his progress. How strange that sounds to many of you. Says Manu: Seeking to get rid of desires by gratifying them is like trying to quench the fire by pouring butter over it. Desire must be curbed and restrained. Desire is to be extinguished utterly. This is most certainly true, but only when a man has reached a certain stage of evolution. In the early stages, the gratification of desires is the law of evolution. If he does not gratify his desires, no growth for him is possible. You must realise that at that stage there is nothing which can be called morality. There is no distinction between right and wrong. Every desire should be gratified; when this commencing centre of self-consciousness is seeking to gratify desires, then alone it grows. In this lowest stage the Dharma of the savage man, or of the higher animal, is imposed on him. He does not choose; his inner nature, marked by the development of desire, demands gratification. The law of his growth is the satisfaction of these desires. So that the Dharma of the savage is the gratification of every desire. And you find in him no consciousness of right or wrong, not the [32] faintest dawning notion that the gratification of desires is forbidden by some higher law.

Without that gratification of desires there is no further growth. All that growth must precede the dawning of reason and judgment and the development of the higher powers of memory and imagination. All these things must be evolved by the gratification of desire. Experience is the law of life, it is the law of growth. Unless he gathers experiences of every kind, he cannot know that he lives in a world of Law. Two ways does the law find for impressing itself on man: pleasure when the Law is followed, pain when the Law is opposed. If men did not at that early stage have every sort of experience, how could they learn of the existence of the Law? How can discrimination grow between right and wrong, unless there is the experience of both good and evil? A universe can never come into existence except by the pairs of opposites, and these at one stage appear in the consciousness as good and evil. You cannot know light without darkness, motion without rest, pleasure without pain; so you cannot know the good that is harmony with the Law with out knowing the evil that is discord with the Law. Good and evil are a pair of opposites in the later evolution of man, and man cannot become conscious of the difference between them unless he has experience of both.

Now we come to a change. Man has developed a certain power of discrimination. Left to himself [33] utterly, he would come to know in time that some things help him on, that some things strengthen him, that some things increase his life; also that other things weaken him and diminish his life. Experience would teach him all that. Left only to the teaching of experience he would come to know right from wrong, would identify the pleasure-giving that increased life with the right, and the pain-giving that diminished life with the wrong, and would thus reach the conclusion that all happiness and growth lay in obeying the Law. But it would take a very long time for this dawning intelligence to compare together experiences of pleasure and pain, and the confusing experiences in which that which at first gave pleasure became painful by excess, and then to deduce from them the principle of law. It would be a very long time before he could put innumerable experiences together, and deduce from them the idea that this thing is right, and that thing is wrong. But he is not left unaided to make that deduction. There come to him, from past worlds, Intelligences more highly evolved than his own, Teachers who come to help on his evolution, to train his growth, to tell him of the existence of a law determining that which will bring about his more rapid evolution, increasing his happiness, intelligence and strength. In fact, revelation from the mouth of a Teacher quickens evolution, and instead of man being left to the slow teaching of experience, the expression of the law from the mouth of a superior is made to assist his growth. [34]

The Teacher comes and says to this dawning intelligence: “If you kill that man, you are doing an action that I forbid on divine authority. That action is wrong. It will bring misery”. The Teacher says: “It is right to help the starving; that starving man is your brother; feed him; do not let him starve; share with him what you have. That action is right, and if you obey that law it will be well with you”. Rewards of actions are held out to attract the dawning intelligence towards good, and punishments and threats to warn him from wrong. Earthly prosperity is joined with obedience of law, earthly misery with disobedience to law. This announcement of the law that misery follows on that which the law forbids, and happiness on that which the law commands, stimulates the dawning intelligence. He disregards the law, the penalty follows, and he suffers; and he says: “The Teacher told me so”. Memory of a command proved by experience makes an impression on the consciousness far more quickly and more strongly than does experience alone without the revealed law. By this declaration of what the learned call the fundamental principles of morality, namely, that certain classes of actions retard evolution and other classes of action quicken evolution – by this declaration intelligence is immensely stimulated.

If a man will not obey the law declared, then he is left to the hard teaching of experience. If he says: “I will have that thing, though the law forbid it,” then he is left to the stern teaching of pain, and [35] the whip of suffering teaches the lesson that he would not learn from the lips of love.

How often that happens now. How often a young man, argumentative and self-conceited, will not listen to law, will not listen to the experienced, pays no regard to the training of the past. Desire conquers intelligence. His father is heart-broken. “My son is plunged into vice,” says he; “my son is going into evil. I instructed him in right conduct, and see, he has become a liar; my heart is broken for my son.” But Ishvara, the Father more loving than any earthly father, has patience. For he is in the son as much as in the father. He is in him teaching him a lesson, in the only way by which that soul is willing to learn. He would not learn by authority or by example. At all hazards that desire for the evil thing which is stopping his evolution must be rooted out of his nature. If he will not learn by gentleness, let him then learn by pain. Let him learn by experience; let him plunge into vice, and reap the bitter pang that comes from trampling on the law. There is time; he will learn the lesson surely though painfully. God is in him, and still He lets him go that way; nay, He even opens the way that he may go along it; when he demands it, the answer of God is: “My child, if you will not listen, take your own way and learn your lesson in the fire of your agony and in the bitterness of your degradation. I am with you still, watching over you and your actions, the Fulfiller of the law and the [36] Father of your life. You shall learn in the mire of degradation that cessation of desire which you would not learn from wisdom and from love”. That is why He says in the Gita: “I am the gambling of the cheat”. For He is always patiently working for the glorious end, by rough ways if we will not walk in smooth. We, unable to understand that infinite compassion, misread Him, but He works on with the patience of eternity, in order that desire may be utterly uprooted, and His son may be perfect as his Father in heaven is perfect.

Let us go on the next stage. There are certain great laws of growth that are general. We have learned to look upon certain things as right and upon others as wrong. Every nation has its own standard of morality. Only a few know how that standard was formed, and where that standard fails. For ordinary affairs the standard is good enough. The experience of the race has found out, under the guidance of law, that some actions hold back evolution while others press it forward. The great law of the orderly evolution that follows the earlier stages is the law of the four successive steps in later human growth. This comes after a man has reached a certain point, after the preliminary training is over. It is found in every nation at a certain stage of evolution, but was proclaimed in ancient India as the definite law of evolving life, as the sequential order of the growth of soul, as the underlying principle by which Dharma may be understood and followed. [37] Dharma, remember, includes two things – the inner nature at the point it has reached, and the law of its growth for the next stage. For every man Dharma is to be declared. The first Dharma is that of service. No matter in what land the souls may be born, when they have passed through the earlier stages, then their inner nature demands the discipline of service, and that they should learn by service the qualities that are needed for growth into the next stage. At this stage the power of independent action is very limited. At this comparatively early stage, there is more tendency to yield to impulse from without, than to show a developed judgment, choosing a particular course from within. In this class are seen all those who belong to the serving type. Remember those wise words of Bhishma, that if the characteristics of a Brahmana are found in a Shudra and are not found in a Brahmana, then that Brahamana is not a Brahmana and that Shudra is not a Shudra. In other words, the characteristics of the inner nature mark out the stage of that soul’s growth, and stamp it as belonging to one great natural division or another. When the power of initiation is small, where the judgment is untrained, where the reason is poor and little developed, where the Self is unconscious of his high destiny, where he is chiefly moved by desire, where he is still to grow by the gratification of most but not all desires, that man is one whose Dharma is service, and only by performing that Dharma can he follow the law of growth by [38] which he will reach perfection. And such a man is Shudra, by whatever name he may be called in different countries. In ancient India, the souls bearing the characteristics of this type were born into the classes that suited them, for Devas guided their births. In this age, however, confusion has supervened.

What is the law of growth in that stage? Obedience, devotion, fidelity. That is the law of growth for that stage. Obedience, because the judgment is not developed. He whose Dharma is service has to blindly obey the one to whom he renders service. His is not to challenge the order of his superior, nor his to see that the commanded action is a wise one. He has received an order to do a thing, and his Dharma is obedience, by which alone he will be able to learn. People hesitate at that teaching, but it is true. I will take an example, that will strike you most forcibly – that of an army, of a private soldier under the command of his Captain. If every private soldier were to use his own judgment as to the orders that came from the General, and if he were to say: “This is not well, for in my judgment that is the place where I shall be more serviceable”, what would become of the army? The private soldier is shot if he disobeys, for his duty is obedience. When your judgment is feeble, when you are chiefly moved by impulses from without, when you cannot be happy without noise and clatter and jangle around you, then your Dharma is service, wherever you may be [32] born, and you are happy if your karma leads you to a position where discipline will train you.

So the man learns to prepare for the next stage. And the duty of all those who are in positions of authority is to remember that the Dharma of a Shudra is fulfilled when he is obedient and faithful to his master, and they should not expect one in that grade of evolution to show forth the higher virtues. To demand from him cheerfulness in suffering, purity of thought, and the power to suffer hardships ungrudgingly, is to demand too much; for when we ourselves often do not show these qualities, how can we expect them from those whom we call the lower classes? The duty of the higher is to show forth the higher virtues, but he has no right to demand them from his inferiors. If the servant shows fidelity and obedience, the Dharma is perfectly performed, and other faults should not be punished, but should be gently pointed out by the master, for by so doing he is training that younger soul; for a child soul should be gently led along the path, and its growth should not be stunted by harsh treatment, as we generally stunt it.

Then the soul, having learned this lesson in many births, by learning the lesson has obeyed the law of growth, and by following his Dharma has approached the next stage, in which he is to learn the first use of power by acquiring wealth. Then the Dharma of that soul is to evolve all the qualities which are now ready for evolution, and are brought out by leading the life which the inner nature [40] demands, i.e. by taking up some occupation which the next stage requires, the stage where it is a merit to acquire wealth. For the Dharma of a Vaishya all over the world is to evolve certain definite faculties. The faculty of justice, just dealing between man and man, the not swerving aside at the mere prompting of sentiment, the working out of the qualities of shrewdness, keenness, and holding a just balance between contending duties, fair payment in fair exchange, acuteness of insight, frugality, absence of waste and extravagance, the exaction from every servant of the service that should be given, the payment of just wages, but only of just wages – these are the characteristics which fit him for higher growth. It is a merit in the Vaishya to be frugal, to refuse to pay more than he should, to insist on a just and fair exchange. All these things bring out qualities that are wanted and will conduce to future perfection. In their early stages they are sometimes unlovely, but from the higher standpoint they are the Dharma of that man, and if it be not fulfilled, there will be weakness in the character, which will come out later and injure his evolution. Liberality is indeed the law of his further growth, but not the liberality of carelessness or of over-payment. He is to gather wealth by the exercise of frugality and strictness, and then to spend that wealth on noble objects and on learned men, to bestow it upon worthy and well considered schemes for the public good. To gather with energy and shrewdness, and to [41] spend with careful discrimination and liberality, that is the Dharma of a Vaishya, the outcome of his nature and the law of his further growth.

This leads us to the next stage, that of the rulers and warriors, of battles and struggles, where the inner nature is combative, aggressive, quarrelsome, standing on its own ground and ready to protect every one in the enjoyment of what is right. Courage, fearlessness, splendid generosity, throwing away of life in the defense of the weak and in the discharging of one’s duties – that is the Dharma of the Kshattriya. His duty is to protect what is given him in charge against all aggression from without. It may cost him life but never mind that. He must do his duty. To protect, to guard, that is his work. His strength is to be a barrier between the weak and the oppressive, between the helpless and those who would trample them under foot. Right for him the following of war and the struggle in the jungle with the wild beast. Because you do not understand what evolution is, and what the law of growth, you stand aghast at the horrors of war. But the great Rishis, who made this order, knew that a weak soul can never attain perfection. You cannot get strength without courage, and firmness and courage cannot be got without the facing of danger, and the readiness to throw away life when duty demands the sacrifice.

Our sentimental, weak-kneed, pseudo-moralist shrinks from that teaching. But he forgets that in [42] every nation there are souls that need that training, and whose further evolution depends upon their success in attaining it. I appeal again to Bhishma, the incarnation of Dharma, and I remember what he said, that it is the duty of the Kshattriya to slay thousands of his enemies, if his duty in protection lies in that direction. War is terrible, fighting is shocking, our hearts revolt from it, and we shrink before the anguish of mutilated and mangled bodies. To a great extent this is because we are utterly deluded by form. The one use of the body is to enable the life within it to evolve. But the moment it has learned all that that body can give it, let the body break away, and let the soul go free to take a new body that will enable it to manifest higher powers. We cannot pierce the Maya of the Lord. These bodies of ours may perish, time after time, but every death is a resurrection to higher life. This body itself is nothing more than a garment which the soul puts on, and no wise men would like the body to be eternal. We clothe our child in a small coat and change it when the child grows. But will you make the coat of iron, and cramp the growth of the child? So this body is our coat. Shall it be then of iron that it should never perish? Does not the soul require a new body for its higher growth? Let then the body go. This is the hard lesson the Kshattriya learns, and so he throws away his bodily life, and, in this throwing away, his soul gains the power of self-sacrifice, he learns endurance, fortitude, [43] courage, resource, devotion to an ideal, loyalty to a cause, and he pays his body gladly as the price for these, the immortal soul rising triumphant and preparing for a nobler life.

Then there comes the last stage, the stage of teaching. The Dharma of that stage is to teach. The soul must have assimilated all lower experiences before he can teach. If he had not been through all those previous stages, and obtained wisdom through obedience and exertion and combat, how could he be a teacher? He has reached the stage of evolution where the natural expansion of his inner nature is to teach his more ignorant brethren. These qualities are not artificial. They are inborn qualities of nature and they show themselves wherever they exist. A Brahmana is not a Brahmana if he is not a teacher by his Dharma. He has gained knowledge and a favourable birth in order to make him a teacher.

The law of his growth is knowledge, piety, forgiveness, being the friend of every creature. How the Dharma is changed! But he could not be the friend of every creature if he had not learned to throw his life away when duty called, and the very battle trained the Kshattriya to become at a later stage the friend of every creature. What is the law of a Brahmanas growth? He must never take offence. He must never lose self-control. He must never be hasty. He must always be gentle: otherwise he falls from his Dharma. He must be all purity. He must never lead an evil life. He must detach himself from [44] worldly things, if they have a hold upon him. Do I hold up an impossible standard? I but speak the law as the Great Ones have spoken it, and I but feebly re-echo their words. The law has laid down the standard, and who shall dare to lower it? When Shri Krishna Himself proclaimed that as the Dharma of the Brahmana, that must be the law of his growth, and the end of his growth is liberation. For him is liberation, but only if he shows out the qualities that he ought to have reached, and follows the lofty ideal that is his Dharma. These are the only justification for the name of Brahmana.

This ideal is so beautiful that all earnest and thoughtful men desire to reach it. But wisdom steps in and says: “Yes, it shall be yours, but you must earn it. You must grow, you must labour; truly it is yours, but it is not yours until you have paid the price”. Important is it for our own growth, and the growth of the nations, that this distinction in Dharmas should be understood as depending upon the stage of evolution, and that we should be able to discriminate our own Dharma by the characteristics which we find in our nature. If we set before an unprepared soul an ideal so lofty that it does not move him, we check his evolution. If you give to a peasant the ideal of a Brahmana you are placing before him an impossible ideal, and the result is that he does nothing. When you tell a man a thing too high for him, that man knows that you have been talking nonsense, for you have commanded [45] him to perform that which he has no power to perform; your folly has placed before him motives which do not move him. But wise were the teachers of old. They gave the children sugar-plums, and later the higher lessons. But we are so clever that we appeal to the lowest sinner by motives which can stir only the highest saint, and thus instead of furthering, we check his evolution. Place your own ideal as high as you can set it. But do not impose your ideal upon your brother, the law of whose growth may be entirely different from yours. Learn the tolerance which helps each man to do in his place what it is good for him to do, and what his nature impels him to do. Leaving him in his place, help him. Learn that tolerance which is repelled by none, however sinful, which sees in every man a divinity working, and stands beside him to help him. Instead of standing off on some high peak of spirituality, and preaching a doctrine of self-sacrifice which is utterly beyond his comprehension, in teaching his young soul, use his higher selfishness to destroy the lower. Do not tell the peasant that when he is not industrious he is falling from the ideal; but tell that man: “There is your wife; you love that woman; she is starving. Set to work and feed her”. By that motive, which is certainly selfish, you do more to raise that man than if you preach to him about Brahman, the unconditioned and unmanifest. Learn what Dharma means, and you will be of service to the world. [46]

I do not wish to lower by one tiniest fraction your own ideal; you cannot aim too high. The fact that you can conceive it makes it yours, but does not make it that of your less developed younger brother. Aim at the loftiest you are able to think and to love. But in aiming, consider the means as well as the end, your powers as well as your aspirations. Make your aspirations high. They are the germs of powers in your next life. Through ever keeping the ideal high you will grow towards it, and what you long for today you shall be in the days to come. But have the tolerance of knowledge, and the patience which is divine. Each thing in its own place is in its right place. As the higher nature develops you can appeal to the qualities of self-sacrifice, purity and utter self-devotion, to the will firmly fixed on God. That is the ideal for the highest to accomplish. Let us climb towards it gradually, lest we fail to reach it at all. [47]


DURING the last two days of our study, we have been giving our attention and fixing our thought on what I may call the theoretical side, to a very great extent, of this complicated and difficult problem. We have tried to understand how the differences of nature arise. We have tried to grasp the sublime idea, that this world is intended to grow from the mere germ of life given out by God into the image of Him who gave it forth. The perfection of that image, we have seen, can only be gained by the multiplicity of finite objects, and perfection lies in that multiplicity; but in that same multiplicity we see is implied necessarily the limitation of each object. We then found that by the law of growth, we must have existing in the universe, at one and the same time, every variety of inner evolving nature. As these natures are all at different stages of evolution, we cannot make on all of them the same demands, nor expect from all of them the discharge of the same functions. Morality must be studied in relation to the people who are to practice it. In judging the standard of right and wrong for a particular individual, we must consider at what stage of growth that individual has arrived. Absolute right existeth in Ishvara alone; [48] our right and wrong are relative and depend for each of us very much on the stage of evolution that we have reached.

I am going to try this evening to apply this theory to the conduct of life. We must see whether we have gained, by the line of study that we have pursued, a rational and scientific idea of morality, so that we may no longer have the same confusion that is seen today. For we see that ideals are held up on one side as those which ought to be reproduced in life, and on the other hand we find that there is an absolute failure even to aim at these ideals; we behold a most unfortunate divergence between faith and practice. Morality is not without its laws; like everything else in a universe that is the expression of divine thought, morality has also its conditions and limitations. In this way it may be possible to bring a cosmos out of the present moral chaos, and to learn practical lessons in morality, which will enable India to grow, to develop, to become again an example to the world, reproducing her ancient grandeur, showing forth once more her ancient spirituality.

There are three recognised schools of morality existing among western people. We must remember that western thought is very largely influencing India, and especially is it influencing the rising generation, on which the hope of India rests. It is, therefore, necessary that we should understand something of these schools of morality, differing in their theories [49] and teachings, that exist in the West, if it be only in order to learn to avoid their limitations, and to take from them whatever of good they may have to offer.

There is one school which says that revelation from God is the basis of morality. The objection raised by opponents to that statement is that in this world there are many religions, and every religion has its own revelation. Looking at this variety of religious scriptures, it is argued, it is difficult to say that one revelation is to be regarded as based on supreme authority. That each religion will regard its own revelation as supreme is natural, but in this conflict of tongues how shall a decision be made by the student?

Then it is said again, that there is an inherent defect in this theory, affecting all moral standards founded on a revelation given once for all. In order that a scheme may be useful for the time for which it is given, it must be of a nature suitable for the time. As a nation evolves, and thousands upon thousands of years pass over the people, we find that that which was suitable for the nation in its infancy, becomes unsuitable for the nation in its manhood; many precepts once useful are no longer useful today under the changed circumstances of the time. That difficulty is recognised and met when we come to deal with the Hindu scriptures; for we find there a vast variety of moral teachings, suitable for all grades of evolving souls. There are [50] precepts so simple, so clear, so definite, and so imperative, that the youngest of souls may utilize them. But we find also that the Rishis recognised that these precepts were not meant for the training of a highly developed soul. We find in the Ancient Wisdom that teachings were also given to a few advanced souls, teachings that at the time were utterly unintelligible to the masses. Those teachings were restricted to an inner circle of those who had reached the maturity of the human race. Different schools of morality have always been recognised in Hinduism as necessary for human growth. But whenever, in some great religion, that recognition is not found, you get a certain theoretical morality, not suited to the growing needs of the people, and, therefore, there is a sense of unreality, a feeling that it is not reasonable to permit now what was permitted in the infancy of humanity. On the other hand, you find here and there, in all scriptures, precepts of the loftiest character which few can even strive to obey. When a command, suitable to the almost savage, is made of universal obligation and is given on the same authority and to the same people as the command given to the saint, there creeps in the feeling of unreality, and confusion of thought is the result.

Another school has arisen, which bases morality on intuition – which says that God speaks to every man through the voice of conscience. It alleges that revelation is made to nation after nation, but that we are not bound by any single book; conscience is the [51] final arbiter. The objection made to this theory is that one man’s conscience has the same authority as another man’s. If your conscience differs from that of another, then who may decide between conscience and conscience, between the conscience of the ignorant rustic and the conscience of the illuminated mystic? If you say that you admit the principle of evolution, and that you should take as your judge the highest conscience in the race, then intuition fails as a solid basis of morality, and the very element of variety destroys the rock on which you intended to build. The conscience is the voice of the inner man, who remembers the experiences of his past, and out of that immemorial experience judges a given line of conduct today. This so-called intuition is the result of countless incarnations, and according to the number of incarnations, the mind is evolved on which the quality of the conscience of the present individual depends; such intuition, pure and simple, cannot be taken as sufficient guide in morality. We want a commanding voice, not a jangle of tongues. We need the authority of the teacher, and not the confused gabbling of the crowd.

The third school of morality is the school of utilitarianism. That school’s view is, as generally presented, neither reasonable nor satisfactory. What is the maxim of this school? “That is right which conduces to the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” It is a maxim which will not bear analysis. Notice the words “greatest number”. Such a [52] limitation makes the maxim one which the illuminated intelligence must reject. There is no question of majority, when we are dealing with mankind. One life is its root, one God its goal; you cannot separate the happiness of one from that of another. You cannot break up the solid unity, and, picking up the majority, give happiness to them, and leave the minority disregarded. This theory does not recognise the irrefragable unity of the human race, and consequently its maxim fails as a basis of morality. It fails because, in consequence of this unity, one man cannot be perfectly happy unless all men are perfectly happy. His happiness fails in perfection so long as one unit is left out and is unhappy. God does not make distinctions as to units and majorities, but gives one life to humanity and to all creatures. The life of God is the only life in the universe; and the perfect happiness of that life is the goal of the universe.

Then again, there is a failure in this maxim as an impelling motive because it appeals only to the developed intelligence, that is, to the highly evolved soul. If you go to the ordinary man of the world, to a selfish person, and if you say to that man: “You must lead a life of self-sacrifice and virtue and perfect morality, even though the leading it may cost you your life,” what do you think would be his answer? Such a man would say: “Why should I do this for the human race, for people in the future whom I shall never see?” If you take this as [53] the standard of right and wrong, then the martyr becomes the greatest fool that humanity has ever produced, for he throws away the possibility of happiness and gets nothing in return. You cannot take this standard, save by limiting your view to the cases in which you get a noble soul, highly developed, and, though not entirely spiritual, with possibility of dawning spirituality. There are such as William Kingdom Clifford, in whose hands the utilitarian doctrine has become inspired with a sublime loftiness of tone. Clifford, in his essay on Ethics, appeals to the highest ideals and gives the noblest teachings of self-sacrifice. He had no belief in the immortality of the soul; approaching death, he could stand beside his grave, believing that that ended all, and preach that the highest virtue is the only thing that a true man can practice, since he owes it to a world which has given him all. But very few will draw inspiration so noble from a prospect so gloomy, and we need a view of right and wrong that shall inspire all, appeal to all, and not merely to those who need its impulse least.

What has come out of all this quarrelling? Confusion, and something worse. A lip-acceptance of revelation, with a practical disregard of it. We have, in fact, a revelation modified by custom. That is the standard which emerges from this confusion. Revelation is taken theoretically as authority, but is disregarded in practice, because often found imperfect. So that you have this [54] unreasonable position, that that which is declared as authority is rejected in the life, and a life of an illogical kind, a happy-go-lucky life is led, without any logic or reason, without the basis of any definite and rational system.

Can we find in this idea of Dharma a basis more satisfactory, a basis on which the conduct of life may be intelligently built? However low, or however high the stage of evolution occupied by the individual, the idea of Dharma gives us the thought of an inner nature unfolding itself in further growth, and we have found that the world is, as a whole, evolving – evolving from the imperfect to the perfect, from the germ to the divine man, stage by stage, in every grade of manifested life. That evolution is by the divine will. God is the moving power, the guiding Spirit of the whole. It is His way of building the world. It is the method that He has adopted in order that the Spirits that are His children may reproduce the likeness of their Parent. Does not that very statement hint at a law? That is right, which works with the divine purpose in the evolution of the universe, and forwards that evolution from the imperfect to the perfect. That is wrong, which delays or frustrates that divine purpose, and tends to push the universe back to the stage from which it is evolving. It is growing from the mineral to the vegetable, from the vegetable to the animal, from the animal to the animal-man, and from the animal-man to the divine man. That is right, [55] which helps the evolution towards divinity; that is wrong, which drags it backwards, or impedes its progress.

Now if we look for a moment at that idea, perhaps we shall acquire a clear view of this law, and no longer feel uneasy over this relative aspect of right and wrong. Place a ladder with its foot on the platform and let it rise to some place beyond the roof. Suppose that one of you had climbed five steps up, another two steps, while a third was standing on the platform. For the man who had climbed up five steps to stand beside the man who was on the second step would be to descend; but for the man on the platform to stand beside the man on the second step would to be ascend. Suppose that every rung of the ladder represents an action: each would be moral and immoral at the same time, according to the point of view from which we look at it. That action which is moral for a brute-man, would be immoral for a highly cultivated man. For a man on the higher rung of the ladder to come down to the lower is to go against evolution, and, therefore, for him such action is immoral; but for a man to rise from the lower stage to stand on that same rung is moral, because it is in the line of his evolution. So that two persons may well stand on the same rung of the ladder, but the one, having gone upwards and the other having come downwards to reach it, the action for the one is moral and for the other is immoral. Realise that and we shall begin to find our law. [56]

You have two boys: one of them is a clever and intellectual boy, but is very fond of the gratifications of the body, very fond of food and of anything that gives him sensuous pleasure. The other boy shows some dawning spirituality, is bright, quick and intellectual. We will take a third boy who shows the spiritual nature unfolded to a considerable extent. Here are three boys. What motive shall we use to help on the evolution of each? We go to the young man who is very fond of sensual pleasure. If I say to him: “My son, your life should be a life of perfect unselfishness, you should lead an ascetic life,” he will shrug his shoulders and go away; and I shall not have helped him up a single rung of the ladder. If I say to him: “My lad, these pleasures of yours are pleasures which give you momentary delight but they will ruin your body and shatter your health; look on that prematurely old man, who has led a life of sensual indulgence; that will be your fate if you go on thus; will it not be better to give a part of your time to the cultivation of your mind, to learning something, so that you may be able to write a book or compose a poem, or help on some of the world’s work? You may earn money and get health and fame, and by this attempt you will gratify your ambition; give a rupee now and then to buy a book, instead of buying a dinner”. By so addressing him, I stir that youth with an idea of ambition; selfish ambition I admit, but there is not there as yet the power to respond to the appeal for self-sacrifice. [57] The motive of ambition is selfish, but it is selfishness of a higher kind than that sensual gratification, and as it gives him something of the intellect, raises him out of the brute, puts him on the level of the man who is developing the intellect, and thus helps him to rise higher in the scale of evolution, that is a wiser teaching for him than the impracticable selflessness. It gives him not a perfect ideal, but an ideal suited to his capacity.

But when I come to my intellectual youth with dawning spirituality, I shall put before him the ideal of serving his country, of serving India; I shall make this his object and aim, partly selfish and partly unselfish, thus widening his ambition and helping on his evolution. And when I come to the youth of spiritual nature, I will drop all lower motives, and appeal, on the contrary, to the eternal law of self-sacrifice, to devotion to the one Life, the worship of the great Ones and of God. I shall teach Discrimination and Dispassion, and thus help the spiritual nature to unfold its infinite possibilities. Thus understanding morality as relative, we are able to work effectively. If we fail to help every soul, in its own place, it is because we are ill-trained teachers.

In every nation, there are certain definite things which are marked as wrong, such as murder, theft, lying, vileness. All these are recognised as crimes. That is the general view. But it is not wholly borne out by facts. How far are these things recognised [58] as moral and how far as immoral in practice? Why are they recognised as wrong? Because the masses of the nation have reached a certain stage of evolution. Because the majority of the nation are at about the same level of growth, and at that level they recognise these things as evil, as against progress. The result is that the minority, being below this stage, is regarded as being made up of “criminals”. The majority has reached a higher stage of evolution, and the majority makes the law; then those who cannot come up even to the lowest level of the majority are dubbed criminals. Two types of criminals present themselves to our view. One type upon which we cannot make any impression by appealing to their sense of right and wrong. They are spoken of by the ignorant public as hardened criminals. But this view is a mistaken one, and leads to lamentable results. They are merely ignorant, ungrown souls, child-souls, infants in the School of Life, and we do not help them to grow by trampling them down and brutalizing them further, because they are scarcely a grade removed from the brute. We should use all the means in our power, all that our reason can suggest, to guide and teach these child-souls, to discipline them into a better life; let us not treat them as hardened criminals because they are mere babies in the nursery.

The other type of criminals is made up of those who feel a certain amount of remorse and repentance after the commission of a crime, who know that they [59] have done wrong. They stand on a higher level, and can he helped to resist evil in future by the very suffering imposed on them by human law. I spoke of the necessity of all experience, in order that the soul might learn to discern between right and wrong. We need experience of good and evil, until we can discriminate the good from the evil, but no further. The moment the two lines of actions are distinct before you, and you know that the one is right and the other is wrong, then if you choose the wrong road you are committing sin, you are going against a law that you know and admit. A man at this stage commits sin, because his desires are strong, prompting him to choose the path which is wrong. He suffers, and it is well that he should suffer, if he follows these desires. The moment the knowledge of wrong is present, there at the moment also there is deliberate degradation in yielding to the impulse. Experience of the wrong is only needed before the wrong is recognised as wrong, and in order that it may come to he so recognised. When two courses are before a man, neither of which appears to him to be morally different from the other, then he may take either of those courses and commit it no wrong. But the moment a thing is known to be wrong, it is a treason to ourselves to allow the brute in us to overpower the God in us. That is what is really sin; that is what is the condition of most, but not all, wrong-doers today.

Let us pass front that and look at some particular faults a little more closely. Take murder: we find [60] that the common sense of the community makes a distinction between killing and killing. If a man takes up a knife in anger and stabs his enemy, the law calls him a murderer and hangs him. If a thousand men take up knives and stab a thousand men, then the killing is called war. Glory and not punishment is awarded to him who thus kills. The same crowd who hoot the murderer of one enemy, cheer the men who have killed ten thousand enemies. What is this strange anomaly? How can we explain it? Is there anything to justify the verdict of the community? Is there any distinction between the two acts, which justifies the difference of treatment? There is. War is a thing against which the public conscience more and more protests, and in a moment we shall have to look at this fact of the growth of the public conscience. But while we should do all we can to prevent war, should try to spread peace and to educate our children in the love of peace, there is none the less a real distinction in the conduct of one who kills through private malice, and the killing which takes place in war; this difference is so far-reaching, that I shall dilate upon it a little. In the one case, a personal grudge is satisfied, and personal satisfaction is found. In the other case, one man in killing the other man is not gratifying a personal feeling, is serving no personal object, is seeking no personal gain. The men are killing each other as an act of obedience to a command laid on them by their superiors, whose is the responsibility [61] for the righteousness of the war. All my life I have preached peace, and I have striven to show the evils of war. But, none the less, I recognise that there is much in the mere discipline of the military force, which is of vital importance to those who are subjected to that training. What does the soldier learn? He learns obedience to order, cleanliness, quickness, accuracy, promptness in action, and willingness to undergo physical hardship without complaint or murmur. He learns to risk his life, and to give it for an ideal cause. Is not that a training which has its place in the evolution of the soul? Does not the soul profit by this training? When the ideal of the country fires the heart, when life is sacrificed for it gladly by rough, common and uneducated men, they may be rude, violent, drunken, but they are passing through a training which, in lives to come, will make them better and nobler men.

Then take a phrase used by an Englishman of somewhat strange genius, Rudyard Kipling, who makes soldiers say that they will fight “for the widow at Windsor”. That may sound a little rough, but it is well for the man who starves, who suffers mutilation on the battlefield, if he sees before him his Queen-Empress, mother of millions of people, and offers up his life to her, learning for the first time the beauty of fidelity, of courage and devotion. There is the distinction which, very dimly grasped by the public, marks the distinction between private killing and war. For the interest of the one is personal; [62] that of the other belongs to a wider self – the self of the nation.

In dealing with this question of morality, we fall often practically below that view. There are many cases of theft, of lying, of killing, that the law of man does not punish, but that the law of karma notes and brings back to the doer. Many an act of theft is disguised as commerce; many an act of cheating is disguised as trade; many a fine arrangement of lies is classified as diplomacy. Crime reappears under startling forms, disguised and hidden, and men have to learn self-purification in life after life. Then comes in another consideration, before we come to the essence of sin – one which I cannot entirely overpass – thought and action. There are some actions which a man commits, which are inevitable. You do not understand what you are doing, when you allow yourself to think along a line of wrong. You covet in thought another man’s gold; you are grasping with your mind’s hands, at every moment, what is not yours. You are building the Dharma of the thief. The inner nature, the interior nature, is Dharma, and if you build that inner nature by thoughts that are evil, you will be born with the Dharma that will carry you to deeds of vice. Those deeds will then be done without thought. Have you any idea how many thoughts in you have already gone towards the making of an action? You may dam up water, and prevent it from flowing along a channel, but the moment a hole is made in the dam, [63] the pent-up water will flow through the hole and sweep the dam away: so is it with thought and action. Thought accumulates slowly behind the dam of absence of opportunity. As you think and think, the stream of thought grows fuller and fuller behind the breastwork of circumstances. In another life that breastwork of circumstances gives way, and the action is committed before any new thought has occurred. Those are the inevitable crimes, which sometimes blast a great career, when the thought of the past finds its fruitage in the present, when the karma of accumulated thought comes forth as action. If the opportunity comes to you, and you have time to pause, time to say: “Shall I do it?” then that action is not inevitable for you. The pause for thought means that you can put the thought on the other side and so strengthen the barrier. There is no excuse for doing an action which you have thought of as wrong. Those actions only are inevitable which are done without thinking, where the thought belongs to the past and the action to the present.

We come now to the great question of separateness: there lies in every deed the essence of wrong. In the past, separateness was right. The great course of the divine life-stream was dividing itself into multiplicity; it was needed to build up individual centers of consciousness. So long as a centre needs strengthening, separateness is on the side of progress. Souls at one period need to be selfish; they cannot do without selfishness in the early stages of growth. [64] But now the law of progressing life for the more advanced is the outgrowing of separateness, and the seeking to realise unity. We are now on the path towards unity; we are approaching nearer and nearer to each other. We must now unite, in order to grow further. The purpose is the same, though the method has changed in the evolution through the ages. The public conscience is beginning to recognise that not in separateness but in unity, there lies the true growth of a nation. We are trying to substitute arbitration for war, co-operation for competition, protection of the weak for trampling them under foot, and all this, because the line of evolution now goes towards unity and not towards separateness. Separation is the mark of descent into matter, and unification is the mark of the ascent to Spirit. The world is on the upward trend, although thousands of souls may lag behind. The ideal now is peace, co-operation, protection, brotherhood and helpfulness. The essence of sin now lies in separateness.

But that thought leads us on to another test of conduct. Is the action we are doing one which seeks our own gain, or which helps on the general good? Is our life a self-seeking, useless life, or does it help humanity? If it is selfish, then it is wrong, it is evil, it is against the growth of the world. If you be among those who have seen the beauty of the ideal of unity, and have recognised the perfection of the divine manhood that we seek, then you should kill out this heresy of separateness in yourself. [65]

When we look at much of the teaching of the past and see the conduct of the Sages, certain questions in morality arise, which some find it rather hard to answer. I raise this here, because I may suggest to you the line of thought by which you may defend the Shastras from carping critics and which may enable you to profit by their teachings, without becoming confused. A great Sage is not always, in his conduct, an example that an ordinary man should endeavour to follow. When I speak now of a great Sage, I mean one in whom all personal desire is dead, who is not attracted to any object in the world, whose only life is in obedience to the divine will, who gives himself as one of the channels of divine force for the helping of the world. He performs the functions of a God, and the functions of the Gods differ much from the functions of men. The earth is full of all kinds of catastrophes – wars, earthquakes, famine, pestilences, plagues. Who is their cause? There is no cause in God’s universe save God Himself, and these things which seem so terrible, so shocking; so painful, are His ways of teaching us when we are going wrong. A plague sweeps off thousands of the men of a nation. A mighty war scatters its thousands of dead on the field of carnage. Why? Because that nation had disregarded the divine law of its growth, and must learn its lesson by suffering, if it will not learn it by reason. Plague is the result of disregarding the laws of health and of clean living. God is too merciful to permit a law to be disregarded by [66] the whims and fancies and feelings of slowly evolving man, without calling attention to the disregarded. These catastrophes are worked by the Gods, by the agents of Ishvara, who, invisible throughout the world, administer the divine law, as a magistrate administers the civil laws. Just because they are administrators of the law and are acting impersonally, their actions are no more examples for us to follow, than the action of the judge in imprisoning a criminal is an example to show that an ordinary man may take revenge on his enemy. Look, for instance, at the great Sage Narada. We find him stirring up war, when two nations have reached a point where the higher good of each can only be gained by the struggles of war, and by the conquest of one by the other. Bodies are killed, and it is the best help to the men thus slain that their bodies should be struck away, and that, in new bodies, they may have greater possibility of growth. Gods bring about the battle in which thousands of men are slain. It would be wicked for us to imitate them, because to stir up war for the sake of conquest or gain, or ambition, or for some object where personality comes in, is sinful. But in the case of Narada it is not so, because Devarshis such as he is are helping the world along the path of evolution by striking away the obstacles. You will understand something of the wonders and mysteries of the universe, when you know that things that seem evil from the side of form are good from the [67] side of life; all that happens is working for the best. “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may.” Religion is right when it says that the Gods rule over the world and guide nations, and lead and even scourge them into the right path when they go astray.

A man, full of personality and attracted by the objects of desire, whose whole self is Kama, such a man, committing an action instigated by Kama, often commits a crime; but the very same action committed by a liberated soul, free from all desire, in carrying out the divine order, would be rightly done. In the utter disbelief that men have fallen into as to the working of thy Gods, such words may seem strange, but there is no energy in nature, which is not the physical manifestation of a God carrying out the will of the Supreme. That is the true view of nature. We see the side of form, and, blinded by Maya, call it evil; but the Gods, as they break up forms, are clearing away every obstacle that obstructs the way of evolution.

We may here understand one or two of those other questions that are often thrown in our faces by those who take a superficial view of things. Supposing a man, who is longing to commit a sin, is prevented from committing it solely by the pressure of circumstances; suppose that the longing is growing stronger and stronger; what is the best thing for him? To have an opportunity to put his longing into action. To commit a crime? Yes, even a crime is [68] less injurious to the soul than a continued brooding over it in the mind, the growing of a cancer at the heart of life. An action once done is dead, and the suffering that follows it teaches the needed lesson, but thought is generative and living.* [ * This does not mean that a man should commit a sin rather than struggle against it. So long as he struggles, it is well with him, and he is gaining strength. The case referred to is where there is no struggle, but where the man is longing to do the action and only lacks opportunity. In such case, the sooner the opportunity comes, the better for the man; the pent-up longing breaks forth, the realized wish brings suffering, the man learns a necessary lesson, and is purged of an ever-increasing moral poison.] Do you understand that? If you do, then you will also understand why you find in the scriptures a God putting in the way of a man an opportunity of committing the sin that man is longing to commit, and in fact has committed in his heart. He will suffer, no doubt, for his sin, but he will learn by the suffering that falls on the wrong-doer. Had that evil thought been left to grow in the heart, it would have grown stronger and stronger, and would have gradually wrecked the whole moral nature of the man. For it is like a cancer which, if not speedily removed, will poison the whole body. Far more merciful it is, that such a man should sin and suffer pain, than that he should long to sin and be held back by lack of opportunity merely, and thus make inevitable degradation for lives to come.

So also if a man is making rapid progress, and there is a hidden weakness in him, or some past Karma not exhausted, or evil deed not expiated, [69] that man cannot be liberated while that Karma remains unexhausted, while there is a debt still unpaid. What is the most merciful thing to do? To help that man to pay his debt in anguish and degradation, so that the misery following on the fault may exhaust the Karma of the past. It means that there is swept out of his way an obstacle that prevents his liberation, and God puts that temptation in his way to break the last barrier down. I have not time to work out the details of this most pregnant line of thought, but I ask you to follow it for yourselves and see what it means, and how it illuminates the dark problems of growth, the falls of the saints.

If, when you have assimilated it, you then read such a book as the Mahabharata, you will understand the workings of the Gods in the affairs of men; you will see the Gods working in storm and sunshine, in peace and in war, and you will know that it is well with the man and with the nation, whatever may occur to them; for the noblest wisdom and the tenderest love are guiding them to their appointed goal.

I come now to the last word – a word I will dare to speak to you, who have been listening to me patiently on a subject so difficult and abstruse. There is a yet higher note: know that there is a supreme goal, and the last steps on the path to it are not the steps where Dharma can any longer guide us. Let us take some wonderful words from the great Teacher, Shri Krishna, and let us see how in His final instruction, He speaks of something loftier than anything on [70] which we have dared to touch. Here is His message of peace: “Listen thou again to My supreme word, most secret of all; beloved art thou of Me, and steadfast of heart, therefore will I speak for thy benefit. Merge the Manas in Me, be my devotee, sacrifice to Me, prostrate thyself before Me, thou shalt come even to Me. Abandoning all Dharmas, come unto Me alone for shelter; sorrow not, I will liberate thee from all sins” (Bhagavad-Gita, xviii, 64-66.).

My last words are addressed only to those who lead here a life of supreme longing to sacrifice themselves to Him; they have a right to these last words of hope and peace. Then the end of Dharma is reached. Then the man desires no longer anything save the Lord. When the soul has reached that stage of evolution, where it asks nothing of the world, but gives itself wholly to God, when it has outgrown all the promptings of desire, when the heart has gained freedom by love, when the whole being throws itself forward at the feet of the Lord – then abandon you all Dharmas; they are no longer for you; no longer for you the law of growth, no longer for you that balancing of duty, no longer for you that scrutiny of conduct. You have given yourself to the Lord. There is nothing left in you that is not divine. What Dharma can any longer remain for you, for, united to Him, you are no longer a separated self. Your life is hid in Him, His life is yours; you may be living in the world, you are but His instrument. You are His wholly. Your life is Ishvara’s, and [71] Dharma has no longer any claim on you. Your devotion has liberated you, for your life is hid in God. That is the word of the Teacher. That is the last thought I would leave with you.

And now, my brothers, farewell. Our work together is done. After this imperfect presentation of a mighty subject, may I say to you: listen to the thought in the message, and not to the speaker who is the messenger; open your hearts to the thought, and forget the imperfection of the lips that have spoken it. Remember that, as we climb to God, we must needs try, however feebly, to pass on to our brothers some touch of that life we reach after. Forget therefore the speaker, but remember the teaching. Forget the imperfections which are in the messenger, not in the message. Worship the God whose teaching we have been studying, and pardon in your charity the faults of the servant who has given it utterance.


The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path

A lecture delivered by Annie Besant
at the Ananda College, Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1907

Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Chennai [Madras] India


Twenty-three hundred years have passed since the great Buddhist Emperor, Ashoka, sent to the Island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) his son and his daughter, to plant in this island not only the material slip from the sacred tree of Buddha Gaya, but also to plant here a slip of that Tree of Wisdom which, since that day, has spread abroad over the island, as it has spread far over the nations, over the world – that Tree of Wisdom which you call the faith of the Buddha.

We are to take this afternoon one of His great teachings for our study. You remember how, when He had left His father’s house, when He had left His wife and His infant son, when He had sought, by the help of instructors in the jungle, to win His way to life, when He had sought by asceticism to find the path which others had failed to teach Him, that He finally, sitting under that famous tree, having conquered every temptation, having thrown back all the illusions of Mara, when at last illumination reached Him, when He had entered into perfect knowledge – then He saw, for the first time in this life – the Four Noble Truths: sorrow, its roots, the cessation of sorrow, the path out of it – the Noble Eightfold Path. And it is that Noble Eightfold Path to which I ask your attention this afternoon.

Characterized as are all the teachings of the Blessed One by brevity, they are instinct with wisdom: for just as on each one of the Four Noble Truths, volumes of exposition may be written, so in the phrases of this Noble Eightfold Path, the whole law of life, the whole rule of conduct, is definitely expressed; and if a man should follow that Eightfold path, if a man should carry out the eight directions that are given, then that man would bridge the threshold of Arhatship, and he would prepare himself for liberation.

Now, what is this Noble Eightfold Path? It consists of eight precepts, or as we may call them, eight great truths, each one of which applies to human life, each one of which is intended to shape human destiny; and taken one by one, and understood and practised, human evolution would be rapid and secure. The first of these great truths is Right Knowledge; the second, Right Thought; then the third and fourth, that grow out of Right Thought – Right Speech and Right Activity; then, with regard to the outer world, Right Means of Livelihood; then, Right Exertion; then Right Memory; and, lastly, that highest achievement, Right Concentration.

Those are the eight steps, as we may call them, of the Path – these eight great truths for the guidance of human life.

Let us take these eight truths one by one, and see how a true Buddhist may shape his life thereby. The first, then, is Right Knowledge, as sometimes we find it translated; for often, in translating from Sanskrit or from Pali into English, the original word is fuller and larger than the English word, and so two words are given to explain one. So sometimes this word is also translated as Right Belief. But, truly, all belief should be based on knowledge. That which a man rightly knows, that only can he rightly believe: all else is credulity and folly. Now, in the modem world, right belief has not been thought to be so very important that it should be placed at the outset of this Noble Eightfold Path. But right belief or right knowledge – this is really the most vital and essential thing of all. It is the foundation upon which all thought and speech and action are built. And if your foundation be rotten, how, on that rotten foundation, shall a safe house be built for the living of man?

Now what is Right Knowledge? It is knowledge based on, and in accordance with, the facts of life, the facts of the universe, the Law which surrounds us, and which no effort of ours may change or alter; it is knowledge of the laws on which the universe is built, laws which do not change, laws which do not vary, which cannot be broken, but which may be disregarded. But if those laws are disregarded, even if we have no right knowledge concerning them, even if, instead of knowledge, we are left in avidya, the absence of knowledge, then it is impossible, when we are without that knowledge, to guide our life to any useful end.

Now, it would be impossible for me to go into the whole realm of right knowledge; but there are two great laws stated, which a man must know if he is to guide his life aright, and if he knows these two rightly, and walks by them then his life will be ennobling for himself, will be beneficial to all among whom he lives.  One of those laws is the Law of Cause and Effect, that which we call the Law of Action, of Karma; the other is the Law of Opposites, the law which expresses itself in the fact that if you meet a vibration of one kind with a vibration of the same kind, then the vibration grows stronger, larger, wider; but if you meet that vibration with a vibration of the opposite kind, then the one extinguishes the other, looked at from the ethical standpoint. That is, the great principle of returning good for evil.

Let us see how the Blessed One taught this Law of Karma, for it is noticeable that He taught it in a way that all men could understand, by admirably choosing a symbol, by pointing the attention of the hearer to familiar things and out of them expressing profound truth. This Law of Cause and Effect, this Law of Karma – how did He teach it? Thus: if a man acts from an evil thought, then pain follows that action as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the cart. There is not a peasant walking in the street, there is not a cultivator delving in the soil, who could not follow that graphic image; as the wheel must follow the foot of the ox, so must pain follow the evil thought or evil action; inevitable is the action of the law; you cannot break it. Again, if a man acts from a pure thought, happiness attends him inseparably as his shadow. Not a child who has walked in the sunshine, but knows that his shadow cannot be separated from himself; as inevitable as is the union between shadow and body, so is the union between righteousness and happiness.

Now, supposing you have realized this piece of Right Knowledge: supposing, whenever temptation comes to you, you cast it back by the thought of the attendant pain; supposing you have realized that no one can save you from the result of your own actions, but that you must inevitably bear the result yourself; then there is something else you would want to know in order to guide your conduct aright, and that is what I have called the Law of Opposites. . .

It was summed up by the Lord Buddha in four phrases. You may expand them to every emotion which you can feel, to all your acts towards your fellow creatures: “Let a man overcome anger by love; let him overcome hatred by kindness; let him overcome the greedy by liberality; the liar by truth.” See how, in each, the one is put over against its opposite; against the vice, the virtue that is exactly opposite to it. A man is angry with you; answer him back with anger, and anger will carry you both away; but answer with love, and the anger vanishes, and peace rules over the two who would otherwise have been foes. If a man does you a wrong, repay him not with the wrong he has done you, in the short-sighted fashion of the world, which strikes back and so perpetuates the evil. If a man is greedy, do not be greedy towards him; be liberal. If he is miserly, pour out upon him of what you have; teach him by the opposite virtue, and not by showing him the mirror of his own vice repeated. If a man lies to you, do not you lie back to him. There are so many who say: “He spoke untruths to me, and I only paid him back in his own coin.” This is the wisdom of the Buddha; if a man speaks falsehood to you, answer him with truth, and the liar shall become truthful, and so shall truth reign supreme. Now, carry out these noble truths, this noble wisdom, this teaching, carry it out in your lives, carry it out in your business, in your own homes, wherever you meet your fellowmen. If one does you wrong, answer him by the opposite virtue, and then, you will have the right to call yourself a follower of the Blessed One.

Having thus laid the foundation of Right Knowledge, knowledge at least of the two chief facts, of the two fundamental laws, the next thing that is necessary is Right Thought. That is, that your thought should be as good, as perfect, as you can make it. Out of thought grows speech. Out of thought grows action. A man who thinks wrongly, speaks wrongly, acts wrongly. The man who thinks rightly, his speech is right, his action is also right. Thought, that is so often disregarded, is far more important than either speech or action. Take care that your thoughts are right, and the others inevitably will be right; be careless in your thought and inevitably you will fall into evil ways.

Therefore, on the great foundation of Right Knowledge, Right Thinking is to be builded, and you are to endeavour that your thought shall be serious, accurate, as perfect as you are able to make it. “Earnestness,” said the Buddha, “is life; thoughtlessness is death”; for the thoughtless and the careless man slips inevitably into many evils. The earnest man, who is careful, who is thoughtful, that man will guide aright his speech and his action. So that the next thing that you have to consider in treading this Noble Eightfold Path, is Right Thinking. Your thought builds your future:  your thought makes your character. As you think today, so tomorrow, inevitably, you will act. The thoughtforms that you leave behind you when death touches you, the tendencies that have grown out of your life, those will be re-embodied in your next incarnation, and thus out of your tendencies of this life will be created the lives of the future. Therefore, Right Thinking is the second of your steps.

The next step is Right Speech. Now, what is Right Speech? First, it is speech which is true. All the everyday falsehoods of ordinary life are condemned by Right Speech. All the empty falsehoods which people so lightly utter – these are all condemned and shut out from Right Speech. Right Speech is true to the uttermost. Right Speech is also kind and courteous. Harsh language, cruel words, bitter attacks – none of these is possible to the true Buddhist who is endeavouring to walk upon the Noble Eightfold Path, who is striving to follow out the rule of Right Speech; and concerning that virtue the Buddha again gives us a splendid example. A certain man was railing at him, using wrong speech and not right; the Blessed One listened patiently until the man finished all the abuse that he had to pour upon Him, and then He answered gently and said:

“Son! when a man gives a present without regard to the rules of politeness, the fashion is to say, ‘ Keep your present.’ Son! I cannot take your railing. Keep it and take it back to yourself. The wicked man who attacks a virtuous one, is like a man who looks up to high heaven and spits at it. The heaven is not soiled thereby, but the spittle falls upon his own person and defiles him. The man who scatters mud does not soil others; on the contrary the mud, flies back and soils his own clothes. The virtuous man cannot be injured by the evil a wicked man does against him: the evil goes back to the wrong-doer.” That is the great teaching with regard to right and wrong speech. Evil words spoken to you do you no harm, unless you answer them with evil speech. If a man abuse you, he does you no harm, unless you take up his abuse and answer him with abuse; then his abuse comes to you and remains with you, and he is free from it. But if you answer not with abuse, his evil speech goes back to him and remains with him, and you are unharmed by it. So the law works out. If a man abuse you, you are not injured thereby, unless you answer him in the same way; if you answer his abuse by love, by compassion, by silence or by gentle words, then his evil words go back to him, he is not able to throw them upon you, and only he suffers harm from the evil he has wrought; his evil returns to him. Carry that out in daily life. This law is a law for life and not only for talk. The next time a man reviles you, answer him by silence or by love, and his abuse will remain with him and you will go on your way uninjured.

And after these three, we come to the fourth: Right Action. Right Action is almost sure to follow where Right Knowledge, Right Thought and Right Speech have paved the way. The tongue is the hardest thing to control. Have control over your mind and thoughts, have control over your mind and tongue; then, Right Action will inevitably follow – the actions of the body will inevitably follow the right road. Some other aids in this you have been given in the Five Precepts, marking out for you the wrong actions which you should avoid. You may not evade the law, like the Buddhist who says day after day, “I will not take life,” yet sometimes sustains his own life upon the meat which is only to be obtained by the slaughter of one life by another. The man who sustains his own life, who feeds his own life on the slaughtered life of the beasts, that man contributes to the taking of life as much as if he took life himself. If those who desire to practice Right Action would all abstain from sustaining their own lives upon the life which is slaughtered by another, the slaughter would cease. Then, you must abstain from all sex-evil: from all illegal, unlawful, sensual indulgence – you must strive after purity of the body. You must also abstain from intoxicating liquor. This vice is, I am glad to know, abating in Ceylon at the present time, for happily, with the revival of Buddhism, there has come a reaction against the taking of intoxicating liquors, which was unfortunately copied from others who have come amongst you. And as your own ancient religion asserts itself again, with its supreme authority, drunkenness will become a thing of the past – for a drunken Buddhist is impossible to think of, it is utterly against the law whereby he lives. Right Action, then, is the fourth of the steps upon this Noble Eightfold Path.

Then we come to Right Means of Livelihood – a very practical thing, and a thing that perhaps, in these modern days, needs stress to be laid upon in a very special way. What are Right Means of Livelihood?

They are the gaining of a living by means that do not injure your fellow-men, that serve your family and your community – your neighbours as well as yourself. So that in mingling in this modem life, in which so much of struggle is now unhappily to be found, the law for the Buddhist is, that in all business, in the gaining of his own livelihood, he shall neither injure nor wrong those amongst whom he lives; that is forgotten unhappily, in most modern minds. A man earns his livelihood, but he does not stay to ask himself, “Do I earn it in a right way?” We see and hear of men making great fortunes; if we go behind that fortune, what do we find? Ruined homes, desperate men, broken-hearted women, starving children. The fortune of one man has been built upon the sufferings of others. That is a wrong fortune, a wrong wealth, a wrong enriching of one man, at the cost and the misery of many. Such means of livelihood are unworthy of the man who realizes the unity of mankind and the common Brotherhood of all. Beware, then, how you work and win your livelihood. As the modern methods spread amongst you, as you take part in the race of the world, if you would not lose more than you gain, if you would not forfeit more than you achieve, if you take to modern methods, if you are careless as to the means by which you gather wealth for yourself, if you trample on the weak, if you cheat the stupid, respecting no law but that which can be enforced by the policeman or administered by the judge, and setting at naught the law which is imposed upon your heart, forsaking the path disclosed to you by the Blessed One – then you will grow wealthier in gold, indeed, but you will grow poorer in honour and virtue; and virtue is more precious than gold, pure character is greater wealth than the gains of this world. Take this rule to heart then. See that you choose Right Means to Livelihood, and remember ever that such means alone is permissible for the follower of the Buddha.

And after that comes Right Exertion. Now, many, not unnaturally, often ask, “Why should right exertion or right effort come so late in this outline of human conduct?

Surely, right effort is the very first thing that we want? And until a man makes a right effort, how can he expect that he will make progress of a valuable kind?” Well, the answer is, that effort cannot be rightly directed, unless it is guided by Right Knowledge and Right Thought. Effort which has ignorance behind it, however well-intentioned it be, does more harm than good. The well-intentioned stupid man is really more dangerous to the community and to himself than the man who does not live by right will or right  thought. If you do a thing which is against the law, against that which Right Knowledge teaches, your intentions will not make it come out right. Stern as is the lesson, it is a lesson that you must needs learn and practice. For supposing a man plunges into  burning house to save the life of a child who is in danger of perishing amidst the flames, does his good intention prevent the fire from burning him, unless to his courage he adds wisdom also? The man who knows the danger, takes precautions against it; he binds a cloth about his mouth and so is able to save the child and himself from suffocating. So the man who deliberately does right, using Right Knowledge, and guiding his exertion by Right Thought, that man does twice as well as the headlong man who desires to do right but does not think rightly. So your effort must have Right Knowledge and Right Thought behind it. You must be wise as well as good and prudent, as well as anxious to do right. You must realize that half the harm and misery in the world grows out of ignorant good intentions, unguided by knowledge; that good intentions without Right Knowledge and Right Thought are a fruitful source of mischief. Right effort and right endeavour are endeavour and effort guided by Right Knowledge; that alone should be the kind of effort, that alone should be the endeavour, of all who are of the Buddhist faith.

Then we come to the seventh step upon the Path, Right Memory. There are two meanings that may be given in explanation of that phrase, Right Memory. In the fullest meaning, it is memory of all the past births of a man, such as you find in the Lord Buddha Himself. You remember how, over and over again, when He met men for the first time – for the first time in that life – and when, perhaps, the man treated Him in an evil way, the Blessed One explained it to the disciples around Him, by saying how in some one or other of His previous lives He had met that man, and how then a wrong had been done which bore fruit in the way that they saw. You remember how, over and over again, He illustrates incidents of the present by stories drawn from His perfect memory of the past.

But, in that sense, it is not of very much value to the ordinary man or woman who has no memory of the stories of the past, of his or her previous lives. But there is a sense in which, for all, Right Memory is truly a valuable thing: when a wrong that is done is forgotten as soon as it is committed, when a kindness that is done to you is treasured and remembered for the rest of your life in gratitude, then you have the Right Memory which is of highest use to the ordinary man and woman. It was written of the great Hindu King that a thousand wrongs were done to Him and He forgot them all before He lay down to rest; one kindness was done to Him and He remembered it for the rest of His life. That is Right Memory. Keep a useful forgetfulness for all unkindnesses that touch you; but keep a perfect memory for every kindness that is done you. Forget everything that may have caused you pain – shut your eyes to it; shut it out of your mind, for your memory must not be burdened with the memory of injuries. Let them go. None can injure you, save you had made injury inevitable by your own past – and what folly to remember the injury when to remember it is really to keep it alive? Put away from you all that pains you, forget all that hurts you, all that gives you sorrow, all that seems to wrong you – but keep as your most precious memory all that good you have received. Right Memory is that which treasures up all the joy, goodness and help in grateful remembrance; that memory which cherishes kind thoughts of all who have helped you, however trifling that help may have been. So shall peace and joy be yours for ever, and so shall memory have lost its power to torment.

Right Concentration – this is the last of the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path. Here again, a double meaning is given. For one who has trodden that Path in many lives, to him there is possibility of the highest form of concentration – the concentration by which you may know anything which you will to know, by simply fixing upon it a well-trained and well-pointed mind – that is Right Concentration. Every mind may be so trained to obedience, may be so steady, so one-pointed, that you can fix on any object of knowledge and know that object without and within. But that is a high attainment, led up to by lives of mediation. But for the man of the world, the road to Right Concentration is training your mind in ordinary life. Practice it day by day, hour by hour, fixing your whole attention on the thing you are doing, and do that thing as perfectly as it is possible for you to do it. Do not let your mind wander, do not let it drift. Keep it under your own control, rule it well and firmly. You will not be able at first to close your mind to the distractions, and the disturbances around you, until you have practiced the concentration for many years, Then your mind will become obedient to your will. If you do that, you may begin to meditate with some success. Then the mind which has been trained to concentrate upon outer objects, will become obedient when you begin to fix it upon lofty principles of life. Therefore, see that you practice Right Concentration.

Practice it in everything that you do, and you will gain a mind that is cultivated for the gaining of every kind of knowledge in life, and in that fashion you will prepare yourself gradually for the concentration, for the meditation, that opens the gates of true knowledge and lifts you above the passing troubles of the world.

Thus we have traced the steps of the Noble Eightfold Path. If in our lives and in our hearts we try to realize the truths of that Path, then shall the future hold for us all knowledge, all wisdom, and all peace.

Let me say to you in closing this brief description of the right principles that you have had in this Island for the last twenty-three centuries – so that you have had time to test each of them whether it be truly wise or not – that, if you would restore the palmy days of Sri Lanka, if you would make the Sinhalese people great once more, you must build the future upon this foundation. You must put the feet of your nation on this ancient path once more, and teach the nation to tread it once again. On Buddhism you must build your nationality. On the teachings of the Blessed One you must train up your people, and you must so teach your children. Your boys as they grow up to manhood must sit at the feet of the Buddha and listen to the teaching which in His dying words He left to all mankind, when He said: “I will be with you in the teaching I have given you. I will live with you in the Law which I have declared to you.” In that way you may have the Lord Buddha with you – in the Law that He proclaimed, in the teaching that He gave. Then there will be life still for you, and in the guidance of that teaching you may live again and may build your future; otherwise, there is no future for you in the history of the world. If you will do that, you will be true to the faith and to the great heritage left you by those who have gone before you. If you do that, you will help not only yourselves, you will use the teaching not only for yourselves, but you will keep alive that which is part of the heritage of the world, and thus serve your fellow-men, while you follow the teaching of the Blessed One, the Lord of Compassion and of Mercy. And you will realize the truth of the words of one of your own wise Ones: “Bow down with folded hands: for hard, hard is a Buddha to be met with in a thousand generations.


The Bhagavad-Gita



From the Sanscrit





















Antecedent Words

THE Bhagavad-Gîtâ is an episode of the Mahâbhârata, which is said to have been written by Vyasa. Who this Vyasa is and when he lived is not known.

J. Cockburn Thomson, in his translation of the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, says: “The Mahâbhârata, as all students of Sanskrit well know, is the great epic of India, which from its popularity and extent would seem to correspond with the Iliad among the Greeks. The theme of the whole work is a certain war which was carried on between two branches of one tribe, the descendants of Kuru, for the sovereignty of Hâstinapura, commonly supposed to be the same as the modern Delhi. The elder branch is called by the general name of the whole tribe, Kurus; the younger goes by the patronymic, from Pandu, the father of the five principal leaders.

“This war between the Kurus and Pandavas occupies about twenty thousand slokas, or a quarter of the whole work as we now possess it…. In order to understand the allusions there [in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ] a knowledge is requisite of the previous history of the tribe, which will now be given as follows.

“Of the name Kuru we know but little, but that little is sufficient to prove that it is one of great importance. We have no means of deriving it from any Sanskrit root, nor has it, like too many of the Hindû names, the appearance of being explanatory of the peculiarities of the person or persons whom it designates. It is therefore in all probability a name of considerable antiquity, brought by the Aryan race from their first seat in Central Asia. Its use in Sanskrit is fourfold. It is the name of the northern quarter or Dwipa of the world, and is described as lying between the most northern range of snowy mountains and the polar sea. It is further the name of the most northern of the nine varshas of the known world. Among the long genealogies of the tribe itself it is known as the name of an ancient king to whom the foundation of the tribe is attributed. Lastly, it designates an Aryan tribe of sufficient importance to disturb the whole of northern India with its factions, and to make its battles the theme of the longest epic of olden time.

“Viewing these facts together we should be inclined to draw the conclusion that the name was originally that of a race inhabiting Central Asia beyond the Himalaya, who emigrated with other races into the northwest of the peninsula and with them formed the great people who styled themselves unitedly Arya, or the noble, to distinguish them from the aborigines whom they subdued and on whose territories they eventually settled. . . .

“At the time when the plot of the Mahâbhârata was enacted this tribe was situated in the plain of the Doab, and their particular region lying between the Jumna and Sursooty rivers, was called Kurukshetra, or the plain of the Kurus. The capital of this country was Hâstinapura, and here reigned at a period of which we cannot give the exact date a king named Vichitravirya. He was the son of Shantanu and Satyavati; and Bhîshma and Krishna Dwaipayana, the Vyasa, were his half-brothers; the former being his father’s, the latter his mother’s son. He married two sisters―Amba and Ambalika―but dying shortly after marriage, he left no progeny; and his half-brother, the Vyasa, instigated by divine compassion, married his widow and begat two sons, Dhritarâshtra and Pandu. The former had one hundred sons, the eldest of whom was Duryodhana. The latter married firstly Prîtha, or Kuntî, the daughter of Shura, and secondly Madri. The children of these wives were the five Pandava princes; but as their mortal father, while hunting, had been cursed by a deer to be childless all his life, these children were mystically begotten by different deities. Thus Yudhishthira, Bhîma, and Arjuna were the sons of Prîtha by Dharma, Vayu, and Indra respectively. Nakula was the son of Madri by Nasatya the elder, and Sahadeva by Darsa the younger of the twin Ashwinau, the physicians of the gods. This story would seem to be a fiction invented to give a divine origin to the five heroes of the poem; but however that may be, Duryodhana and his brothers are the leaders of the Kuru, or elder branch of the tribe; and the five Pandava princes those of the Pandava or younger branch.

“Dhritarâshtra was blind, but, although thus incapacitated for governing, he retained the throne, while his son Duryodhana really directed he affairs of the state. . . . he prevailed on his father to banish his cousins, the Pandava princes, from the country. After long wanderings and varied hardships, these princes collected their friends around them, formed by the help of many neighboring kings a vast army, and prepared to attack their unjust oppressor, who had in like manner assembled his forces.

The hostile armies meet on the plain of the Kurus. Bhîshma, the half-brother of Vichitravirya, being the oldest warrior among them, has command of the Kuru faction; Bhîma, the second son of Pandu, noted for his strength and prowess, is the general of the other party [Arjuna’s]. The scene of our poem now opens and remains throughout the same―the field of battle. In order to introduce to the reader the names of the principal chieftains in each army, Duryodhana is made to approach Drôna, his military preceptor, and name them one by one. The challenge is then suddenly given by Bhîshma, the Kuru general, by blowing his conch; and he is seconded by all his followers. It is returned by Arjuna, who is in the same chariot with the god Krishna, who, in compassion for the persecution he had suffered, had become his intimate friend, and was acting the part of a charioteer to him. He is followed by all the generals of the Pandavas. The fight then begins with a volley of arrows from both sides; but when Arjuna perceives it he begs Krishna to draw up the chariot in the space between the two armies while he examines the lines of the enemy. The god does so and points out in those lines the numerous relatives of his friend. Arjuna is horror-struck at the idea of committing fratricide by slaying his near relations, and throws down his bow and arrows, declaring that he would rather be killed without defending himself than fight against them. Krishna replies with the arguments which form the didactic and philosophical doctrines of the work, and endeavors to persuade him that he mistakes in forming such a resolution. Arjuna is eventually overruled. The fight goes on, and the Pandavas defeat their opponents.”

This quotation from Thomson’s edition gives the student a brief statement of what is more or less mythological and allegorical, but if the story of the Mahâbhârata be taken as that of Man in his evolutionary development, as I think it ought to be, the whole can be raised from the plane of fable, and the student will then have before him an account, to some extent, of that evolution.

Thus looking at it from the Theosophical point of view, the king Dhritarâshtra, is the human body which is acquired by the immortal Monad in order to go through the evolutionary journey; the mortal envelope is brought into existence by means of Tanha, or thirst for life. He is blind because the body without the faculties within is merely senseless matter, and thus is “incapacitated for governing,” and some other person is represented in the Mahâbhârata as being the governor of the state, the nominal king being the body―Dhritarâshtra. As the Theosophical scheme holds that there is a double line of evolution within us, we find that the Kurus spoken of in the poem represent the more material side of those two lines, and the Pandava princes, of whom Arjuna is one, stand for the spiritual side of the stream – that is, Arjuna represents the immortal Spark.

The learned Brahmin Theosophist, Subba Row, says in his Notes on the Bhagavad-Gîtâ (Vide The Theosophist, Vol. VIII, p. 299): “Krishna was intended to represent the Logos. . . and Arjuna, who was called Nara, was intended to represent the human monad.” Nara also means Man. The alleged celestial origin for the two branches of the family, the Kurus and Pandavas, is in perfect consonance with this, for the body, or Dhritarâshtra, being solely material and the lower plane in which the development takes place, the Kurus and Pandavas are our inheritance from the celestial beings often referred to in Mme. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, the one tending towards materiality, the other being spiritual. The Kurus, then, the lower portion of our nature earliest developed, obtain the power on this plane for the time being, and one of them, Duryodhana, “prevails,” so that the Pandavas, or the more spiritual parts of our nature, are banished temporarily from the country, that is, from governing Man. “The long wanderings and varied hardships” of the Pandavas are wanderings caused by the necessities of evolution before these better parts are able to make a stand for the purpose of gaining the control in Man’s evolutionary struggle. This also has reference to the cyclic rise and fall of nations and the race.

The hostile armies, then, who meet on the plain of the Kurus are these two collections of the human faculties and powers, those on one side tending to drag us down, those on the other aspiring towards spiritual illumination. The battle refers not only to the great warfare that mankind as a whole carries on, but also to the struggle which is inevitable as soon as any one unit in the human family resolves to allow his higher nature to govern him in his life. Hence, bearing in mind the suggestion made by Subba Row, we see that Arjuna, called Nara, represents not only Man as a race, but also any individual who resolves upon the task of developing his better nature. What is described as happening in the poem to him will come to every such individual. Opposition from friends and from all the habits he has acquired, and also that which naturally arises from hereditary tendencies, will confront him, and then it will depend upon how he listens to Krishna, who is the Logos shining within and speaking within, whether he will succeed or fail.

With these suggestions the student will find that the mythology and allegory spoken of by Thomson and others are useful instead of being merely ornamental, or, as some think, superfluous and misleading. The only cheap edition of the Bhagavad-Gîtâ hitherto within the reach of Theosophical students of limited means has been one which was published in Bombay by Brother Tookeram Tatya, F. T. S., whose efforts in that direction are entitled to the highest praise. But that one was simply a reprint of the first English translation made one hundred years ago by Wilkins. The great attention of late bestowed on the poem by nearly all members of the Theosophical Society in America has created an imperative demand for an edition which shall be at least free from some of the glaring typographical mistakes and blind renderings so frequent in the Wilkins reprint. To meet this demand the present has been made up. It is the result of a careful comparison of all the English editions and of a complete retranslation from the original wherever any obscurity or omission was evident in the various renderings consulted.

The making of a commentary has not been essayed, because it is believed that the Bhagavad-Gîtâ should stand on its own merits without comments, each student being left to himself to see deeper as he advances. The publisher of this edition holds that the poem can be read in many different ways, each depending on the view-point taken, e. g., whether it is considered in its application to the individual, or to cosmogenesis, or to the evolution of the Astral world, or the Hierarchies in Nature, or to the moral nature, and so on. To attach a commentary, except such an one as only a sage like Sankaracharya could write, would be audacious, and therefore the poem is given undisfigured.

The Bhagavad-Gîtâ tends to impress upon the individual two things: first, selflessness, and second, action: the studying of and living by it will arouse the belief that there is but one Spirit and not several; that we cannot live for ourselves alone, but must come to realize that there is no such thing as separateness, and no possibility of escaping from the collective Karma of the race to which one belongs, and then, that we must think and act in accordance with such belief.

The poem is held in the highest esteem by all sects in Hindustan except the Mahommedan and Christian. It has been translated into many languages, both Asiatic and European: it is being read to-day by hundreds of sincere Theosophists in every part of the world. To those and to all others who truly love their fellowmen, and who aspire to learn and teach the science of devotion, this edition of the Bhagavad-Gîtâ is offered.

New York, October, 1890.


“I established this whole Universe with a single portion of myself,
and remain separate.” – Tenth Chapter.


The Bhagavad-Gita

The Book of Devotion





Tell me, O Sanjaya, what the people of my own party and those of Pandu, who are assembled at Kurukshetra resolved upon war have been doing. *

King Duryodhana, having just beheld the

The key for reading the Bhagavad-Gita is to be applied to this first verse. If we look at the poem in its application to a man aspiring to devotion, then the battlefield is the body acquired by Karma and Tanha, thirst for life, while the speaker and his party represent the lower self, and the Pandus the Higher Self. But if this and succeeding chapters are regarded from the cosmic standpoint, then the speaker, the plain of Kuru, the generals described in the first chapter, together with their instruments and weapons, are beings, forces, planes, and planets in the universe, of which it would be out of place to treat here. As applied to ourselves, the poem is of greater interest and importance: it opens with the battle inevitable between the higher and lower natures of man, and then, from this viewpoint, Krishna – who is the Higher Self, ― in order to encourage Arjuna, becomes his instructor in philosophy and right ethics, so that he may be fit to fight and conquer.


army of the Pandus drawn up in battle array, went to his preceptor and spoke these words:

“Behold! O Master, the mighty army of the sons of Pandu drawn up by thy pupil, the clever son of Drupada. In it are warriors with great bows, equal to Bhîma and Arjuna in battle, namely, Yuyudhâna, and Virâta, and Drupada on his great car; Dhrishtaketu, Chekitâna, and the valiant king of Kashî, and Purujit, and Kuntibhoja, with Shaivya, chief of men; Yudhâmanyu the strong, and Uttamauja the brave; the son of Subhadrâ, and all the sons of Draupadi, too, in their huge chariots. Be acquainted also with the names of those in our party who are most distinguished. I will mention a few of those who are amongst my generals, by way of example. There is thyself, my Preceptor, and Bhîshma, Karna, and Kripa, the conqueror


in battle, and Aswatthama, and Vikarna, and the son of Soma-datta, with others in vast numbers, who for my service risk their life. They are all of them practiced in the use of arms, armed with divers weapons, and experienced in every mode of fight. This army of ours, which is commanded by Bhîshma, is not sufficient, while their forces, led by Bhîma, are sufficient. Let all the generals, according to their respective divisions, stand at their posts, and one and all resolve Bhîshma to support.”

The ancient chief, brother of the grandsire of the Kurus, then, to raise the spirits of the Kuru chief, blew his shell, sounding like the lion’s roar; and instantly innumerable shells and other warlike instruments were sounded on all sides, so that the clangor was excessive. At this time Krishna and Arjuna, standing in a splendid chariot drawn by white horses, also sounded their shells, which were of celestial form: the name of the one which Krishna blew was Pânchajanya, and that of Arjuna was called Deva-datta-“the gift of the Gods.” Bhîma, of terrific power, blew his capacious shell, Paundra; and Yudhishthira, the royal son of Kuntî, sounded Anan-


ta-Vijaya; Nakula and Sahadeva blew their shells also, the one called Sughosha, the other Manipushpaka. The prince of Kashî, of the mighty bow; Sikhandï, Dhrishtadyumna. Viràta, Sâtyaki, of invincible arm; Drupada and the sons of his royal daughter; Krishna, with the son Subhadrà, and all the other chiefs and nobles, blew also their respective shells, so that their shrill-sounding voices pierced the hearts of the Kurus and reëchoed with a dreadful noise from heaven to earth.

Then Arjuna whose crest was Hanuman, perceiving that the sons of Dhritarâshtra stood ready to begin the fight , and that the flying of arrows had commenced, having raised his bow, addressed these words to Krishna.

I pray thee, Krishna , cause my chariot to be placed between the two armies , that I may behold who are the men that stand ready, anxious to commence the battle: with whom it is I am to fight in this ready field; and who they are that are here assembled to support the evil minded son of Dhritarâshtra in the battle.”


Krishna being thus addressed by Arjuna, drove the chariot, and, having caused it to halt in the space between the two armies, bade Arjuna cast his eyes towards the ranks of the Kurus, and behold where stood the aged Bhîshma, and Drôna, with all the chief nobles of their party. Standing there Arjuna surveyed both the armies, and beheld, on either side, grandsires, uncles, cousins, tutors, sons, and brothers, near relations, or bosom friends; and when he had gazed for a while and beheld all his kith and kin drawn up in battle array, he was moved by extreme pity, and, filled with despondency, he thus in sadness spoke:

“Now, O Krishna, that I have beheld my kindred thus standing anxious for the fight, my members fail me, my countenance withereth, the hair standeth on end upon my body, and all my frame trembleth with horror! Even Gandiva, my bow, slips from my hand, and my skin is parched and dried up. I am not able to stand; for my mind, as it were, whirleth round, and I behold on all sides ad-


verse omens. When I shall have destroyed my kindred, shall I longer look for happiness? I wish not for victory, Krishna; I want not pleasure; for what are dominion and the enjoyments of life, or even life itself, when those for whom dominion, pleasure, and enjoyment were to be coveted have abandoned life and fortune, and stand here in the field ready for the battle? Tutors, sons and fathers, grandsires and grandsons, uncles and nephews, cousins, kindred, and friends! Although they would kill me, I wish not to fight them: no, not even for the dominion of the three regions of the universe, much less for this little earth! Having killed the sons of Dhritarâshtra, what pleasure, O thou who art prayed to by mortals, can we enjoy? Would we destroy them, tyrants though they are, sin would take refuge with us. It therefore behooveth us not to kill such near relations as these. How, O Krishna, can we be happy hereafter, when we have been the murderers of our race? What if they, whose minds are depraved by the lust of power, see no sin in the extirpation of their race, no crime in the murder of their friends, is that a reason why we should not resolve to turn away from such a crime―we who abhor


the sin of extirpating our own kindred? On the destruction of a tribe the ancient virtue of the tribe and family is lost; with the loss of virtue, vice and impiety overwhelm the whole of a race. From the influence of impiety the females of a family grow vicious; and from women that are become vicious are born the spurious caste called Varna Sankar. Corruption of caste is a gate of hell, both for these destroyers of a tribe and for those who survive; and their forefathers, being deprived of the ceremonies of cakes and water offered to their manes, sink into the infernal regions. By the crimes of the destroyers of a tribe and by those who cause confusion of caste, the family virtue and the virtue of a whole tribe are forever done away with; and we have read in sacred writ, O Krishna, that a sojourn in hell awaits those mortals whose generation hath lost its virtue. Woe is me! What a great crime are we prepared to commit! Alas! that from the desire for sovereignty and pleasure we stand here ready to slay our own kin! I would rather patiently suffer that the sons of Dhritarâshtra, with their weapons in their hands, should come upon me, and unopposed, kill me unresisting in the field.”


When Arjuna had ceased to speak, he sat down in the chariot between the two armies; and, having put away his bow and arrows, his heart was overwhelmed with despondency.

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the First Chapter, by name―




KRISHNA, beholding him thus influenced by compunction, his eyes overflowing with a flood of tears, and his heart oppressed with deep affliction, addressed him in the following words:

“Whence, O Arjuna, cometh upon thee this dejection in matters of difficulty, so unworthy of the honorable, and leading neither to heaven nor to glory? It is disgraceful, contrary to duty, and the foundation of dishonor. Yield not thus to unmanliness, for it ill-becometh one like thee. Abandon, O tormentor of thy foes, this despicable weakness of thy heart and stand up.”

“How, O slayer of Madhu, shall I with


my shafts contend in battle against such as Bhîshma and Drôna, who of all men are most worthy of my respect? For it were better to beg my bread about the world than be the murderer of my preceptors, to whom such awful reverence is due. Were I to destroy such friends as these, I should partake of possessions, wealth, and pleasures polluted with their blood. Nor can we tell whether it would be better that we should defeat them, or they us. For those drawn up, angrily confronting us – and after whose death, should they perish by my hand, I would not wish to live – are the sons and people of Dhritarâshtra. As I am of a disposition which is affected by compassion and the fear of doing wrong, I ask thee which is it better to do? Tell me that distinctly! I am thy disciple; wherefore instruct in my duty me who am under thy tuition; for my understanding is confounded by the dictates of my duty, and I see nothing that may assuage the grief which drieth up my faculties, although I were to obtain a kingdom without a rival upon earth, or dominion over the hosts of heaven.”


Arjuna having thus spoken to Krishna, became silent, saying: “I shall not fight, O Govinda.” Krishna, tenderly smiling, addressed these words to the prince thus standing downcast between the two armies:

“Thou grievest for those that may not be lamented, whilst thy sentiments are those of the expounders of the letter of the law. Those who are wise in spiritual things grieve neither for the dead nor for the living. I myself never was not, nor thou, nor all the princes of the earth; nor shall we ever hereafter cease to be. As the lord of this mortal frame experienceth therein infancy, youth, and old age, so in future incarnations will it meet the same. One who is confirmed in this belief is not disturbed by anything that may come to pass. The senses, moving toward their appropriate objects, are producers of heat and cold, pleasure and pain, which come and go and are brief and changeable; these do thou endure, O son of Bharata! For the wise man, whom these disturb not and to whom pain and pleasure


are the same, is fitted for immortality. There is no existence for that which does not exist, nor is there any non-existence for what exists. By those who see the truth and look into the principles of things, the ultimate characteristic of these both is seen. Learn that He by whom all things were formed is incorruptible, and that no one is able to effect the destruction of IT which is inexhaustible. These finite bodies, which envelope the souls inhabiting them, are said to belong to Him, the eternal, the indestructible, unprovable Spirit, who is in the body: wherefore, O Arjuna, resolve to fight. The man who believeth that it is this Spirit which killeth, and he who thinketh that it may be destroyed, are both alike deceived; for it neither killeth nor is it killed. It is not a thing of which a man may say, ‘It hath been, it is about to be, or is to be hereafter'; for it is without birth and meeteth not death; it is ancient, constant, and eternal, and is not slain when this its mortal frame is destroyed. How can the man who believeth that it is incorruptible, eternal, inexhaustible, and without birth, think that it can either kill or cause to be killed? As a man throweth away old garments and putteth on new, even so the dweller in the body, having quitted its old mortal frames, entereth into others which are new. The weapon divideth it not, the fire burneth it not, the water corrupteth it not, the wind drieth it not away; for it is indivisible, inconsumable, incorruptible, and is not to be dried away: it is eternal, universal, permanent, immovable; it is invisible, inconceivable, and unalterable; therefore, knowing it to be thus, thou shouldst not grieve. But whether thou believest it to be of eternal birth and duration, or that it dieth with the body, still thou hast no cause to lament it. Death is certain to all things which are born, and rebirth to all mortals; wherefore it doth not behoove thee to grieve about the inevitable. The antenatal state of beings is unknown; the middle state is evident; and their state after death is not to be discovered. What in this is there to lament? Some regard the indwelling spirit as a wonder, whilst some speak and others hear of it with astonishment; but no one realizes it, although he may have heard it described. This spirit can never be destroyed in the mortal frame which it inhabiteth, hence it is unworthy for thee to be troubled for all these mortals. Cast but thine eyes towards


the duties of thy particular tribe, and it will ill become thee to tremble. A soldier of the Kshatriya *tribe hath no duty superior to lawful war, and just to thy wish the door of heaven is found open before thee, through this glorious unsought fight which only fortune’s favored soldiers may obtain. But if thou wilt not perform the duty of thy calling and fight out the field, thou wilt abandon thy natural duty and thy honor, and be guilty of a crime. Mankind will speak of thy ill fame as infinite, and for one who hath been respected in the world ill fame is worse than death. The generals of the armies will think that thy retirement from the field arose from fear, and even amongst those by whom thou wert wont to be thought great of soul thou shalt become despicable. Thine enemies will speak of thee in words which are unworthy to be spoken, depreciating thy courage and abilities; what can be more dreadful than this! If thou art slain thou shalt attain heaven; if victorious, the world shall be thy reward; wherefore, son of  Kuntî, arise with determination fixed for the battle. Make pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, the
* Kshatriya is the second or military caste of India.


same to thee, and then prepare for battle, for thus and thus alone shalt thou in action still be free from sin.

“Thus before thee has been set the opinion in accordence with the Sankhya doctrine, speculatively; now hear what it is in the practical, devotional one, by means of which, if fully imbued therewith, thou shalt forever burst the bonds of Karma and rise above them. In this system of Yoga no effort is wasted, nor are there any evil consequences, and even a little of this practice delivereth a man from great risk. In this path there is only one single object, and this of a steady, constant nature; but widely-branched is the faith and infinite are the objects of those who follow not this system.

“The unwise, delighting in the controversies of the Vedas, tainted with worldly lusts, and preferring a transient enjoyment of heaven to eternal absorption, whilst they declare there is no other reward, pronounce, for the attainment of worldly riches and enjoyments, flowery sentences which promise rewards in future births for present action, ordaining also many special ceremonies the fruit of which is merit leading to power and objects of enjoy-


ment. But those who thus desire riches and enjoyment have no certainty of soul and least hold on meditation. The subject of the Vedas is the assemblage of the three qualities. Be thou free from these qualities, O Arjuna! Be free from the ‘pairs of opposites’ and constant in the quality of Sattva, free from worldly anxiety and the desire to preserve present possessions, self-centered and uncontrolled by objects of mind or sense. As many benefits as there are in a tank stretching free on all sides, so many are there for a truth-realizing Brahman in all the Vedic rites.

“Let, then, the motive for action be in the action itself, and not in the event. Do not be incited to actions by the hope of their reward, nor let thy life be spent in inaction. Firmly persisting in Yoga, perform thy duty, O Dhananjaya,* and laying aside all desire for any benefit to thyself from action, make the event equal to thee, whether it be success or failure. Equal-mindedness is called Yoga.

“Yet the performance of works is by far inferior to men-
 Dhananjaya – despiser of wealth.


tal devotion, O despiser of wealth. Seek an asylum, then, in this mental devotion, which is knowledge; for the miserable and unhappy are those whose impulse to action is found in its reward. But he who by means of yoga is mentally devoted dismisses alike successful and unsuccessful results, being beyond them; Yoga is skill in the performance of actions: therefore do thou aspire to this devotion. For those who are thus united to knowledge and devoted, who have renounced all reward for their actions, meet no rebirth in this life, and go to that eternal blissful abode which is free from all disease and untouched by troubles.

“When thy heart shall have worked through the snares of delusion, then thou wilt attain to high indifference as to those doctrines which are already taught or which are yet to be taught. When thy mind once liberated from the Vedas shall be fixed immovably in contemplation, then shalt thou attain to devotion.”

“What, O Keshava,* is the description of that wise and devoted man who is fixed in
 Keshava ―he whose rays manifest themselves as omniscience ― a name of Krishna.


contemplation and confirmed in spiritual knowledge? What may such a sage declare? Where may he dwell? Does he move and act like other men?”

“A man is said to be confirmed in spiritual knowledge when he forsaketh every desire which entereth into his heart, and of himself is happy and content in the Self through the Self. His mind is undisturbed in adversity; he is happy and contented in prosperity, and he is a stranger to anxiety, fear, and anger. Such a man is called a Muni. 
§ When in every condition he receives each event, whether favorable or unfavorable, with an equal mind which neither likes nor dislikes, his wisdom is established, and, having met good or evil, neither rejoiceth at the one nor is cast down by the other. He is confirmed in spiritual knowledge, when, like the tortoise, he can draw in all his senses and restrain them from their wonted purposes. The hungry man loseth sight of every other object but the gratification of his appetite, and when he is become
§ Muni – a wise man.


acquainted with the Supreme, he loseth all taste for objects of whatever kind. The tumultuous senses and organs hurry away by force the heart even of the wise man who striveth after perfection. Let a man, restraining all these, remain in devotion at rest in me, his true self; for he who hath his senses and organs in control possesses spiritual knowledge.

“He who attendeth to the inclinations of the senses, in them hath a concern; from this concern is created passion, from passion anger, from anger is produced delusion, from delusion a loss of the memory, from the loss of memory loss of discrimination, and from loss of discrimination loss of all! But he who, free from attachment or repulsion for objects, experienceth them through the senses and organs, with his heart obedient to his will, attains to tranquility of thought. And this tranquil state attained, therefrom shall soon result a separation from all troubles; and his mind being thus at ease, fixed upon one object, it embraceth wisdom from all sides. The man whose heart and mind are not at rest is without wisdom or the power of contemplation; who doth not practice reflection, hath no calm; and how can a man without calm ob-


tain happiness? The uncontrolled heart, following the dictates of the moving passions, snatcheth away his spiritual knowledge, as the storm the bark upon the raging ocean. Therefore, O great armed one, he is possessed of spiritual knowledge whose senses are withheld from objects of sense. What is night to those who are unenlightened is as day to his gaze; what seems as day is known to him as night, the night of ignorance. Such is the self-governed Sage!

“The man whose desires enter his heart, as waters run into the unswelling passive ocean, which, though ever full, yet does not quit its bed, obtaineth happiness; not he who lusteth in his lusts.

“The man who, having abandoned all desires, acts without covetousness, selfishness, or pride, deeming himself neither actor nor possessor, attains to rest. This, O son of Pritha, is dependence upon the Supreme Spirit, and he who possesseth it goeth no more astray; having obtained it, if therein esablished at the hour of death, he passeth on to Nirvana in the Supreme.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme


Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Second Chapter, by name―




If according to thy opinion, O giver of all that men ask, knowledge is superior to the practice of deeds, why then dost thou urge me to engage in an undertaking so dreadful as this? Thou, as it were with doubtful speech, confusest my reason; wherefore choose one method amongst them by which I may obtain happiness and explain it unto me.”

“It hath before been declared by me, O sinless one, that in this world there are two modes of devotion: that of those who follow the Sankhya, or speculative science, which is the exercise of reason in contemplation; and that of the followers of the Yoga school, which is devotion in the performance of action.

“A man enjoyeth not freedom from action


from the non-commencement of that which he hath to do; nor doth he obtain happiness from a total abandonment of action. No one ever resteth a moment inactive. Every man is involuntarily urged to act by the qualities which spring from nature. He who remains inert, restraining the senses and organs, yet pondering with his heart upon objects of sense, is called a false pietist of bewildered soul. But he who having subdued all his passions performeth with his active faculties all the duties of life, unconcerned as to their result, is to be esteemed. Do thou perform the proper actions: action is superior to inaction. The journey of thy mortal frame cannot be accomplished by inaction. All actions performed other than as sacrifice unto God make the actor bound by action. Abandon, then, O son of Kuntî, all selfish motives, and in action perform thy duty for him alone. When in ancient times the lord of creatures had formed mankind, and at the same time appointed his worship, he spoke and said: ‘With this worship, pray for increase, and let it be for you Kamaduk, the cow of plenty, on which ye shall depend for the accomplishment of all your wishes. With this nourish the Gods,


that the Gods may nourish you; thus mutually nourishing ye shall obtain the highest felicity. The Gods being nourished by worship with sacrifice, will grant you the enjoyment of your wishes. He who enjoyeth what hath been given unto him by them, and offereth not a portion unto them, is even as a thief.’ But those who eat not but what is left of the offerings shall be purified of all their transgressions. Those who dress their meat but for themselves eat the bread of sin, being themselves sin incarnate. Beings are nourished by food, food is produced by rain, rain comes from sacrifice, and sacrifice is performed by action. Know that action comes from the Supreme Spirit who is one; wherefore the all-pervading spirit is at all times present in the sacrifice.

“He who, sinfully delighting in the gratification of his passions, doth not cause this wheel thus already set in motion to continue revolving, liveth in vain, O son of Pritha.

“But the man who only taketh delight in the Self within, is satisfied with that and content with that alone, hath no selfish interest in action. He hath no interest either in that which is done or that which is not done; and


there is not, in all things which have been created, any object on which he may place dependence. Therefore perform thou that which thou hast to do, at all times unmindful of the event; for the man who doeth that which he hath to do, without attachment to the result, obtaineth the Supreme. Even by action Janaka and others attained perfection. Even if the good of mankind only is considered by thee, the performance of thy duty will be plain; for whatever is practised by the most excellent men, that is also practiced by others. The world follows whatever example they set. There is nothing, O son of Pritha, in the three regions of the universe which it is necessary for me to perform, nor anything possible to obtain which I have not obtained; and yet I am constantly in action. If I were not indefatigable in action, all men would presently follow my example, O son of Pritha. If I did not perform actions these creatures would perish; I should be the cause of confusion of castes, and should have slain all these creatures. O son of Bharata, as the ignorant perform the duties of life from the hope of reward, so the wise man, from the wish to bring the world to duty and bene-


fit mankind, should perform his actions without motives of interest. He should not create confusion in the understandings of the ignorant, who are inclined to outward works, but by being himself engaged in action should cause them to act also. All actions are effected by the qualities of nature. The man deluded by ignorance thinks, ‘I am the actor.’ But he, O strong-armed one! who is acquainted with the nature of the two distinctions of cause and effect, knowing that the qualities act only in the qualities, and that the Self is distinct from them, is not attached in action.

“Those who have not this knowledge are interested in the actions thus brought about by the qualities; and he who is perfectly enlightened should not unsettle those whose discrimination is weak and knowledge incomplete, nor cause them to relax from their duty.

“Throwing every deed on me, and with thy meditation fixed upon the Higher Self, resolve to fight, without expectation, devoid of egotism and free from anguish.

“Those men who constantly follow this my doctrine without reviling it, and with a firm faith, shall be emancipated even by ac-


tions; but they who revile it and do not follow it are bewildered in regard to all knowledge, and perish, being devoid of discrimination.

“But the wise man also seeketh for that which is homogeneous with his own nature. All creatures act according to their natures; what, then, will restraint effect? In every purpose of the senses are fixed affection and dislike. A wise man should not fall in the power of these two passions, for they are the enemies of man. It is better to do one’s own duty, even though it be devoid of excellence, than to perform another’s duty well. It is better to perish in the performance of one’s own duty; the duty of another is full of danger.”

“By what, O descendant of Vrishni, is man propelled to commit offences; seemingly against his will and as if constrained by some secret force?

“It is lust which instigates him. It is passion, sprung from the quality of rajas;* in-
* Rajas  is one of the three great qualities; the driving power of nature; active and bad.


satiable, and full of sin. Know this to be the enemy of man on earth. As the flame is surrounded by smoke, and a mirror by rust,  and as the womb envelopes the foetus, so is the universe surrounded by this passion. By this―the constant enemy of the wise man, formed from desire which rageth like fire and is never to be appeased―is discriminative knowledge surrounded. Its empire is over the senses and organs, the thinking principle and the discriminating faculty also; by means of these it cloudeth discrimination and deludeth the Lord of the body. Therefore, O best of the descendants of Bharata, at the very outset restraining thy senses, thou shouldst conquer this sin which is the destroyer of knowledge and of spiritual discernment.

“The senses and organs are esteemed great, but the thinking self is greater than they. The discriminating principle  is greater than the thinking self, and that which is greater than the discriminating principle is He,§ Thus knowing what is greater than the discriminating principle and strengthening the lower
   The burnished metal mirrors are here referred to.
   The discriminating principle is Buddhi.
§   “He,” the Supreme Spirit, the true Ego.


by the Higher Self, do thou of mighty arms slay this foe which is formed from desire and is difficult to seize.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Third Chapter, by name―




This exhaustless doctrine of Yoga I formerly taught unto Vivaswat; * Vivaswat communicated it to Manu 
 and Manu made it known unto Ikshwaku;  and being thus transmitted from one unto another it was studied by the Rajarshees,§ until at length in the course of time the mighty art was lost, O harasser of thy foes! It is even the same exhaustless, secret, eternal doctrine I have this day communicated unto thee because thou art my devotee and my friend.”

Seeing that thy birth is posterior to the
*Vivaswat, the sun, first manifestation of divine wisdom at the beginning of evolution.
╫ Manu, generic title for the reigning spirit of the sensuous universe; the present one being Vaivashwata Manu.
 Ikshwaku, the founder of the Indian solar dynasty.
§  Rajarshees, Royal Sages.


life of Ikshwaku, how am I to understand that thou wert in the beginning the teacher of this doctrine?”

“Both I and thou have passed through many births, O harasser of thy foes! Mine are known unto me, but thou knowest not of thine.

“Even though myself unborn, of changeless essence, and the lord of all existence, yet in presiding over nature – which is mine – I am born but through my own maya*the mystic power of self-ideation, the eternal thought in the eternal mind.  I produce myself among creatures, O son of Bharata, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world; and thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness. Whoever, O Arjuna, knoweth my divine birth and actions to be even so doth not
*Maya, Illusion.
╪  See also the Varaha Upanishad of Krishna-Yajur Veda, viz; “The whole of the universe is evolved through Sankalpa [thought or ideation] alone; it is only through Sankalpa that the universe retains its appearance.”


 upon quitting his mortal frame enter into another, for he entereth into me. Many who were free from craving, fear, and anger, filled with my spirit, and who depended upon me, having been purified by the ascetic fire of knowledge, have entered into my being. In whatever way men approach me, in that way do I assist them; but whatever the path taken by mankind, that path is mine, O son of Pritha. Those who wish for success to their works in this life sacrifice to the gods; and in this world success from their actions soon cometh to pass.

“Mankind was created by me of four castes distinct in their principles and in their duties according to the natural distribution of the actions and qualities. * Know me, then, although changeless and not acting, to be the author of this. Actions affect me not, nor have I any expectations from the fruits of actions. He who comprehendeth me to be thus is not held by the bonds of action to rebirth. The ancients who longed for eternal salvation, having discovered this, still performed works.
* This refers to the four great castes of India; the Brahmin, the soldier, the merchant, and the servant. Such division is plainly evident in every country, even when not named as such.


Wherefore perform thou works even as they were performed by the ancients in former times.

“Even sages have been deluded as to what is action and what inaction; therefore I shall explain to thee what is action by a knowledge of which thou shalt be liberated from evil. One must learn well what is action to be performed, what is not to be, and what is inaction. The path of action is obscure. That man who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is wise among men; he is a true devotee and a perfect performer of all action.

“Those who have spiritual discrimination call him wise whose undertakings are all free from desire, for his actions are consumed in the fire of knowledge. He abandoneth the desire to see a reward for his actions, is free, contented, and upon nothing dependeth, and although engaged in action he really doeth nothing; he is not solicitous of results, with mind and body subdued and being above enjoyment from objects, doing with the body alone the acts of the body, he does not subject himself to rebirth. He is contented with whatever he receives fortuitously, if free from the influence of ‘the pairs of opposites’ and


from envy, the same in success and failure; even though he act he is not bound by the bonds of action. All the actions of such a man who is free from self-interest, who is devoted, with heart set upon spiritual knowledge, and whose acts are sacrifices for the sake of the Supreme, are dissolved and left without effect on him. The Supreme Spirit is the act of offering, the Supreme Spirit is the sacrificial butter offered in the fire which is the Supreme Spirit, and unto the Supreme Spirit goeth he who maketh the Supreme spirit the object of his meditation in performing his actions.

“Some devotees give sacrifice to the Gods, while others, lighting the subtler fire of the Supreme Spirit offer up themselves; still others make sacrifice with the senses, beginning with hearing, in the fire of self-restraint, and some give up all sense-delighting sounds, and others again, illuminated by spiritual knowledge, sacrifice all the functions of the senses and vitality in the fire of devotion through self-constraint. There are also those who perform sacrifice by wealth given in alms, by mortification, by devotion, and by silent study. Some sacrifice the up-breathing in the down-breath-


ing and the down-breathing in the up-breathing by blocking up the channels of inspiration and expiration; and others by stopping the movements of both the life breaths; still others by abstaining from food sacrifice life in their life.

“All these different kinds of worshippers are by their sacrifices purified from their sins; but they who partake of the perfection of spiritual knowledge arising from such sacrifices pass into the eternal Supreme Spirit. But for him who maketh no sacrifices there is no part nor lot in this world; how then shall he share in the other, O best of the Kurus?

“All these sacrifices of so many kinds are displayed in the sight of God; know that they all spring from action, and, comprehending this, thou shalt obtain an eternal release. O harasser of thy foes, the sacrifice through spiritual knowledge is superior to sacrifice made with material things; every action without exception is comprehended in spiritual knowledge, O son of Pritha. Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions, and by humility; the wise who see the truth will communicate it unto thee, and knowing which thou shalt never again fall


into error, O son of Bharata. By this knowledge thou shalt see all things and creatures whatsoever in thyself and then in me. Even if thou wert the greatest of all sinners, thou shalt be able to cross over all sins in the bark of spiritual knowledge. As the natural fire, O Arjuna, reduceth fuel to ashes, so does the fire of knowledge reduce all actions to ashes. There is no purifier in this world to be compared to spiritual knowledge; and he who is perfected in devotion findeth spiritual knowledge springing up spontaneously in himself in the progress of time. The man who restraineth the senses and organs and hath faith obtaineth spiritual knowledge, and having obtained it he soon reacheth supreme tranquility; but the ignorant, those full of doubt and without faith, are lost. The man of doubtful mind hath no happiness either in this world or in the next or in any other. No actions bind that man who through spiritual discrimination hath renounced action and cut asunder all doubt by knowledge, O despiser of wealth. Wherefore, O son of Bharata, having cut asunder with the sword of spiritual knowledge this doubt which existeth in thy


heart, engage in the performance of action. Arise!”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Fourth Chapter, by name ―




At one time, O Krishna, thou praisest the renunciation of action, and yet again its right performance. Tell me with certainty which of the two is better?”

“Renunciation of action and devotion through action are both means of final emancipation, but of these two devotion through action is better than renunciation. He is considered to be an ascetic* who seeks nothing and nothing rejects, being free from the influence of the ‘pairs of opposites,’ 
╫ O thou of mighty arms; without trouble he is released from the bonds forged by action. Children only and not the wise speak of renunciation of action  and of right performance of ac-
That is, one who has really renounced.
 That is, cold and heat, pleasure and pain, misery and happiness, etc.
 Sankhya school.


tion * as being different. He who perfectly practices the one receives the fruits of both, and the place  which is gained by the renouncer of action is also attained by him who is devoted in action. That man seeth with clear sight who seeth that the Sankhya and the Yoga doctrines are identical. But to attain to true renunciation of action without devotion through action is difficult, O thou of mighty arms; while the devotee who is engaged in the right practice of his duties approacheth the Supreme Spirit in no long time. The man of purified heart, having his body fully controlled, his senses restrained, and for whom the only self is the Self of all creatures, is not tainted although performing actions. The devotee who knows the divine truth thinketh ‘I am doing nothing’ in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving, sleeping, breathing; even when speaking, letting go or taking, opening or closing his eyes, he sayeth, ‘the senses and organs move by natural impulse to their appropriate objects.’ Whoever in acting dedicates his actions to the Supreme Spirit and puts aside all selfish in-
* Yoga school.
  Nirvana, or emancipation.


terest in their result is untouched by sin, even as the leaf of the lotus is unaffected by the waters. The truly devoted, for the purification of the heart, perform actions with their bodies, their minds, their understanding, and their senses, putting away all self-interest. The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquility; whilst he who through desire has attachment for the fruit of action is bound down thereby. * The self-restrained sage having with his heart renounced all actions, dwells at rest in the ‘nine gate city of his abode,’  neither acting nor causing to act. 

“The Lord of the world creates neither the faculty of acting, nor actions, nor the connection between action and its fruits; but nature prevaileth in these. The Lord receives no man’s deeds, be they sinful or full of
* This refers not only to the effect on the man now, in life, but also to the “binding to rebirth” which such action causes.
 That is, the body as having nine openings through which impressions are received, viz,: eyes, ears, mouth, nose, etc.
‡ The Sage who has united himself to true consciousness remains in the body for the benefit of mankind.


merit. * The truth is obscured by that which is not true, and therefore all creatures are led astray. But in those for whom knowledge of the true Self has dispersed ignorance, the Supreme, as if lighted by the sun, is revealed. Those whose souls are in the Spirit, whose asylum is in it, who are intent on it and purified by knowledge from all sins, go to that place from which there is no return.

“The illuminated sage regards with equal mind an illuminated, selfless Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and even an outcast who eats the flesh of dogs. Those who thus preserve an equal mind gain heaven even in this life, for the Supreme is free from sin and equal minded; therefore they rest in the Supreme Spirit. The man who knoweth the Supreme Spirit, who is not deluded, and who is fixed on him, doth not rejoice at obtaining what is pleasant, nor grieve when meeting what is unpleasant. He whose heart is not attached to
* In order to understand this clearly it is necessary to remember that in the Vedic philosophy it is held that all actions, whether they be good or bad, are brought about by the three great qualities―sattva, rajas, tamas―inherent in all throughout evolution. This is set forth at length in the 7th Chapter, and in Chapter 13 the manner in which those qualities show themselves is fully given.


objects of sense finds pleasure within himself, and, through devotion, united with the Supreme, enjoys imperishable bliss. For those enjoyments which arise through the contact of the senses with external objects are wombs of pain, since they have a beginning and an end; O son of Kuntî, the wise man delighteth not in these. He who, while living in this world and before the liberation of the soul from the body, can resist the impulse arising from desire and anger is a devotee and blesséd. The man who is happy within himself, who is illuminated within, is a devotee, and partaking of the nature of the Supreme Spirit, he is merged in it. Such illuminated sages whose sins are exhausted, who are free from delusion, who have their senses and organs under control, and devoted to the good of all creatures, obtain assimilation with the Supreme Spirit. * Assimilation with the Supreme Spirit is on both sides of death for those who are free from desire and anger, temperate, of thoughts restrained; and who are acquainted with the true Self.

“The anchorite who shutteth his placid soul away from all sense of touch, with gaze
* That is, direct knowledge of Self.


fixed between his brows; who maketh the breath to pass through both his nostrils with evenness alike in inspiration and expiration, whose senses and organs together with his heart and understanding are under control, and who hath set his heart upon liberation and is ever free from desire and anger, is emancipated from birth and death even in this life. Knowing that I, the great Lord of all worlds, am the enjoyer of all sacrifices and penances and the friend of all creatures, he shall obtain me and be blessed.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Fifth Chapter, by name―




He who, unattached to the fruit of his actions, performeth such actions as should be done is both a renouncer * of action and a devotee 
  of right action; not he who liveth without kindling the sacrificial fire and without ceremonies.  Know, O son of Pandu, that what they call Sannyas or a forsaking of action is the same as Yoga or the practice of devotion. No one without having previously renounced all intentions can be devoted. Action is said to be the means by which the wise man who is desirous of mounting to meditation may reach thereto; so cessation from action is said to be the means for him who hath reached to meditation. When he hath renounced all intentions and is devoid of attachment to action in regard to objects of
A Sannyasi.
  A Yogi
  Those ceremonies prescribed by the Brahmanical law.


sense, then he is called one who hath ascended to meditation. He should raise the self by the Self; let him not suffer the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and in like manner, self is its own enemy. *Self is the friend of the man who is self-conquered; so self like a foe hath enmity to him who is not self-conquered. The Self of the man who is self-subdued and free from desire and anger is intent on the Supreme Self in heat and cold, in pain and pleasure, in honor and ignominy. The man who hath spiritual knowledge and discernment, who standeth upon the pinnacle, and hath subdued the senses, to whom gold and stone are the same, is said to be devoted. And he is esteemed among all who, whether amongst his friends and companions, in the midst of enemies or those who stand aloof or remain neutral, with those who love and those who hate, and in the company of sinners or the righteous, is of equal mind.

“He who has attained to meditation should constantly strive to stay at rest in the Supreme,
* In this play upon “self” the Higher and the lower self are meant, in that the lower is the enemy of the Higher through its resistance to true development; and the lower self is at the same time the enemy of its own best interests through its downward tendency.


remaining in solitude and seclusion, having his body and his thoughts under control, without possessions and free from hope. He should in an undefiled spot place his seat, firm, neither too high nor too low, and made of kusa grass which is covered with a skin and a cloth. * There, for the self’s purification he should practice meditation with his mind fixed on one point, the modifications of the thinking principle controlled and the action of the senses and organs restrained. Keeping his body, head, and neck firm and erect, with mind determined, and gaze directed to the tip of his nose without looking in any direction, with heart at peace and free from fear, the Yogee should remain, settled in the vow of a Brahmacharya, his thoughts controlled, and heart fixed on me. The devotee of controlled mind who thus always bringeth his heart to rest in the Supreme reacheth that
These directions are for those hermits who have retired from the world. Many of the translators have variously construed the text; one reads that the devotee has “only skin and sheet to cover him and grass to lie upon”; another that “his goods are a cloth and deerskin and kusa grass.” “Those who know” say that this is a description of a magnetically arranged seat and that kusa grass is laid on the ground, the skin on the grass, and the cloth on the skin. Philological discussion will never decide the point.


tranquility, the supreme assimilation with me.

“This divine discipline, Arjuna, is not to be attained by the man who eateth more than enough or too little, nor by him who hath a habit of sleeping much, nor by him who is given to overwatching. The meditation which destroyeth pain is produced in him who is moderate in eating and in recreation, of moderate exertion in his actions, and regulated in sleeping and waking. When the man, so living, centers his heart in the true Self and is exempt from attachment to all desires, he is said to have attained to Yoga. Of the sage of self-centered heart, at rest and free from attachment to desires, the simile is recorded, ‘as a lamp which is sheltered from the wind flickereth not.’ When regulated by the practice of yoga and at rest, seeing the self by the self, he is contented; when he becometh acquainted with that boundless bliss which is not connected with objects of the senses, and being where he is not moved from the reality; *having gained which he considereth no other superior to it, and in which,
“Reality,” Nirvana and also complete realization of the True and the disappearance of the illusion as to objects and separateness.


being fixed, he is not moved even by the greatest grief; know that this disconnection from union with pain is distinguished as yoga, spiritual union or devotion, which is to be striven after by a man with faith and steadfastly.

“When he hath abandoned every desire that ariseth from the imagination and subdued with the mind the senses and organs which impel to action in every direction, being possessed of patience, he by degrees finds rest; and, having fixed his mind at rest in the true Self, he should think of nothing else. To whatsoever object the inconstant mind goeth out he should subdue it, bring it back, and place it upon the Spirit. Supreme bliss surely cometh to the sage whose mind is thus at peace; whose passions and desires are thus subdued; who is thus in the true Self and free from sin. He who is thus devoted and free from sin obtaineth without hindrance the highest bliss―union with the Supreme Spirit. The man who is endued with this devotion and who seeth the unity of all things perceiveth the Supreme Soul in all things and all things in the Supreme Soul. He who seeth me in all things and all things in me looseneth not


his hold on me and I forsake him not. And whosoever, believing in spiritual unity, worshipeth me who am in all things, dwelleth with me in whatsoever condition he may be. He, O Arjuna, who by the similitude found in himself seeth but one essence in all things, whether they be evil or good, is considered to be the most excellent devotee.”

“O slayer of Madhu, * on account of the restlessness of the mind, I do not perceive any possibility of steady continuance in this yoga of equanimity which thou hast declared. For indeed, O Krishna, the mind is full of agitation, turbulent, strong, and obstinate. I believe the restraint of it to be as difficult as that of the wind.”

“Without doubt, O thou of mighty arms, the mind is restless and hard to restrain; but it may be restrained, O son of Kuntî, by practice and absence of desire. Yet in my opinion this divine discipline called yoga is very diffi-
* Madhu; a daitya or demon slain by Krishna, and representing the quality of passion in nature.


cult for one who hath not his soul in his own control; yet it may be acquired through proper means and by one who is assiduous and controlleth his heart.”

“What end, O Krishna, doth that man attain who, although having faith, hath not attained to perfection in his devotion because his unsubdued mind wandered from the discipline? Doth he, fallen from both, * like a broken cloud without any support, 
 become destroyed, O strong-armed one, being deluded in the path of the Supreme Spirit? Thou Krishna, shouldst completely dispel this doubt for me, for there is none other to be found able to remove it.”

“Such a man, O son of Pritha, doth not perish here or hereafter. For never to an evil
“From both” here means the good Karma resulting from good deeds and spiritual knowledge acquired through yoga, or heaven and emancipation.
  “Without any support” refers to the support or sanction contained in the Brahmanical law in its promises to him who keeps it, for he who practices yoga is not abiding by the promises of the law, which are for those who obey that law and refrain from yoga.


place goeth one who doeth good. The man whose devotion has been broken off by death goeth to the regions of the righteous, * where he dwells for an immensity of years and is then born again on earth in a pure and fortunate family;  or even in a family of those who are spiritually illuminated. But such a rebirth into this life as this last is more difficult to obtain. Being thus born again he comes in contact with the knowledge which belonged to him in his former body, and from that time he struggles more diligently towards perfection, O son of Kuru. For even unwittingly, by reason of that past practice, he is led and works on. Even if only a mere enquirer, he reaches beyond the word of the Vedas. But the devotee who, striving with all his might, obtaineth perfection because of efforts continued through many births, goeth to the supreme goal. The man of meditation as thus described is superior to the man of penance and to the man of learning and also to the man of action; wherefore, O Arjuna, resolve thou to become a man of meditation. But of all devotees he is considered by me as the most
* That is, Devachan.
 Madhusudana says this means in the family of a king or emperor.


devoted who, with heart fixed on me, full of faith, worships me.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Sixth Chapter, by name―




Hear, O son of Pritha, how with heart fixed on me, practicing meditation and taking me as thy refuge, thou shalt know me completely. I will instruct thee fully in this knowledge and in its realization, which, having learned, there remains nothing else to be known.

“Among thousands of mortals a single one perhaps strives for perfection, and among those so striving perhaps a single one knows me as I am. Earth, water, fire, air, and akâsa, Manas, Buddhi, and Ahankara is the eightfold division of my nature. It is inferior; know that my superior nature is different and is the knower; by it the universe is sustained; learn that the whole of creation springs from this too as from a womb; I am the cause, I am the production and the dissolution of the whole universe. There is none superior to me, O conqueror of wealth, and all things hang


on me as precious gems upon a string. I am the taste in water, O son of Kuntî, the light in the sun and moon, the mystic syllable OM in all the Vedas, sound in space, the masculine essence in men, the sweet smell in the earth, and the brightness in the fire. In all creatures I am the life, and the power of concentration in those whose minds are on the spirit. Know me, O son of Pritha, as the eternal seed of all creatures. I am the wisdom * of the wise and the strength of the strong. And I am the power of the strong who in action are free from desire and longing; in all creatures I am desire regulated by moral fitness. Know also that the dispositions arising from the three qualities, sattva, rajas, and tamas, are from me; they are in me, but I am not in them. The whole world, being deluded by these dispositions which are born of the three qualities, knoweth not me distinct from them, supreme, imperishable. For this my divine illusive power, acting through the natural qualities, is difficult to surmount, and those only can surmount it who have recourse to me alone. The wicked among men, the deluded and the low-minded, deprived of spiritual perception by
* This means here the principle “Buddhi.”


this illusion, and inclining toward demoniacal dispositions, do not have recourse to me.

“Four classes of men who work righteousness worship me, O Arjuna; those who are afflicted, the searchers for truth, those who desire possessions, and the wise, O son of Bharata. Of these the best is the one possessed of spiritual knowledge, who is always devoted to me. I am extremely dear to the wise man, and he is dear unto me. Excellent indeed are all these, but the spiritually wise is verily myself, because with heart at peace he is upon the road that leadeth to the highest path, which is even myself. After many births the spiritually wise findeth me as the Vasudeva who is all this, for such an one of great soul * is difficult to meet. Those who through diversity of desires are deprived of spiritual wisdom adopt particular rites subordinated to their own natures, and worship other Gods. In whatever form a devotee desires with faith to worship, it is I alone who inspire him with constancy therein, and depending on that faith he seeks the propitiation of that God, obtaining the object of his
* In the original the word is “Mahatma.”


wishes as is ordained by me alone. But the reward of such short-sighted men is temporary. Those who worship the Gods go to the Gods, and those who worship me come unto me. The ignorant, being unacquainted with my supreme condition which is superior to all things and exempt from decay, believe me who am unmanifested to exist in a visible form. Enveloped by my magic illusion I am not visible to the world; therefore the world doth not recognize me the unborn and exhaustless. I know, O Arjuna, all creatures that have been, that are present, as well as all that shall hereafter be, but no one knows me. At the time of birth, O son of Bharata, all beings fall into error by reason of the delusion of the opposites which springs from liking and disliking, O harasser of thy foes. But those men of righteous lives whose sins have ceased, being free from this delusion of the ‘pairs of opposites,’ firmly settled in faith, worship me. They who depend on me, and labor for deliverance from birth and death know Brahmâ, the whole Adhyâtma, and all Karma. Those who rest in me, knowing me to be the Adhibhûta, the Adhidaivata, and


the Adhiyajna, know me also at the time of death.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Seventh Chapter, by name―




What is that Brahman, what is Adhyâtma, and what, O best of men! is Karma? What also is Adhibhûta, and what Adhidaivata ? Who, too, is Adhiyajna here, in this body, and how therein, O slayer of Madhu? Tell me also how men who are fixed in meditation are to know thee at the hour of death?”

“Brahman the Supreme is the exhaustless. Adhyâtma is the name of my being manifesting as the Individual Self. Karma is the emanation which causes the existence and reproduction of creatures. * Adhibhûta is the Supreme Spirit dwelling in all elemental nature through the mysterious power of nature’s illusion. Adhidaivata is the Purusha, the
* Karma here is, so to say, the action of the Supreme which is seen in manifestation throughout the evolution of the objective worlds.


Spiritual Person, and Adhiyajna is myself in this body, O best of embodied men. Whoever at the hour of death abandoneth the body, fixed in meditation upon me, without doubt goeth to me. Whoso in consequence of constant meditation on any particular form thinketh upon it when quitting his mortal shape, even to that doth he go, O son of Kuntî. Therefore at all times meditate only on me and fight. Thy mind and Buddhi being placed on me alone, thou shalt without doubt come to me. The man whose heart abides in me alone, wandering to no other object, shall also by meditation on the Supreme Spirit go to it, O son of Pritha. Whosoever shall meditate upon the All-Wise which is without beginning, the Supreme Ruler, the smallest of the small, the Supporter of all, whose form is incomprehensible, bright as the sun beyond the darkness; with mind undeviating, united to devotion, and by the power of meditation concentrated at the hour of death, with his vital powers placed between the eyebrows, attains to that Supreme Divine Spirit.

“I will now make known to thee that path which the learned in the Vedas call inde-


structible, into which enter those who are free from attachments, and is followed by those desirous of leading the life of a Brahmacharya * laboring for salvation. He who closeth all the doors of his senses, imprisoneth his mind in his heart, fixeth his vital powers in his head, standing firm in meditation, repeating the monosyllable OM, and thus continues when he is quitting the body, goeth to the supreme goal. He who, with heart undiverted to any other object, meditates constantly and through the whole of life on me shall surely attain to me, O son of Pritha. Those great-souled ones who have attained to supreme perfection come unto me and no more incur rebirths rapidly revolving, which are mansions of pain and sorrow.

“All worlds up to that of Brahman are subject to rebirth again and again, but they, O son of Kuntî, who reach to me have no rebirth. Those who are acquainted with day and night  know that the day of Brahmâ is
* Brahmacharya vow is a vow to live a life of religious study and asceticism – “following Brahma.”
 This refers to those who have acquired knowledge of the ultimate divisions of time, a power which is ascribed to the perfect yogi in Patanjali’s Yoga Philosophy.


a thousand revolutions of the yugas and that his night extendeth for a thousand more. At the coming on of that day all things issue forth from the unmanifested into manifestation, so on the approach of that night they merge again into the unmanifested. This collection of existing things having thus come forth, is dissolved at the approach of the night, O son of Pritha; and now again on the coming of the day it emanates spontaneously. But there is that which upon the dissolution of all things else is not destroyed; it is indivisible, indestructible, and of another nature from the visible. That called the unmanifested and exhaustless is called the supreme goal, which having once attained they never more return – it is my supreme abode. This Supreme, O son of Pritha, within whom all creatures are included and by whom all this is pervaded, may be attained by a devotion which is intent on him alone.

“I will now declare to thee, O best of the Bharatas, at what time yogis dying obtain freedom from or subjection to rebirth. Fire, light, day, the fortnight of the waxing moon, six months of the sun’s northern course―


going then and knowing the Supreme Spirit, men go to the Supreme. But those who depart in smoke, at night, during the fortnight of the waning moon, and while the sun is in the path of his southern journey, proceed for a while to the regions of the moon and again return to mortal birth. These two, light and darkness, are the world’s eternal ways; by one a man goes not to return, by the other he cometh back again upon earth. No devotee, O son of Pritha, who knoweth these two paths is ever deluded; wherefore, O Arjuna, at all times be thou fixed in devotion. * The man of meditation who knoweth all this reaches beyond whatever rewards are promised in theVedas or that result from sacrifices or austerities or from gifts of charity, and goeth to the supreme, the highest place.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the collo-
* The paragraph up to here is thought by some European Sanscritists to be an interpolation, but that view is not held by all, nor is it accepted by the Hindus.


quy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Eighth Chapter, by name―




Unto thee who findeth no fault I will now make known this most mysterious knowledge, coupled with a realization of it, which having known thou shalt be delivered from evil. This is the royal knowledge, the royal mystery, the most excellent purifier, clearly comprehensible, not opposed to sacred law, easy to perform, and inexhaustible. These who are unbelievers in this truth, O harasser of thy foes, find me not, but revolving in rebirth return to this world, the mansion of death.

“All this universe is pervaded by me in my invisible form; all things exist in me, but I do not exist in them. Nor are all things in me; behold this my divine mystery: myself causing things to exist and supporting them all but dwelling not in them. Understand that all things are in me even as the mighty


air which passes everywhere is in space. O son of Kuntî, at the end of a kalpa all things return unto my nature, and then again at the beginning of another kalpa I cause them to evolve again. Taking control of my own nature I emanate again and again this whole assemblage of beings, without their will, by the power of the material essence. * These acts do not bind me, O conqueror of wealth, because I am as one who sitteth indifferent, uninterested in those works. By reason of my supervision nature produceth the animate and inanimate universe; it is through this cause, O son of Kuntî, that the universe revolveth.

“The deluded despise me in human form, being unacquainted with my real nature as Lord of all things. They are of vain hopes, deluded in action, in reason and in knowledge, inclining to demoniac and deceitful principles.  But those great of soul, partaking of the godlike nature, knowing me to be the imperishable principle of all things, worship me, diverted to nothing else. Fixed in un-
* That is to say, by the power of “prakriti.”
 This reads that “they are inclined to the nature of the asuras and rakshasas,” a class of evil elementals of beings, or, as some say, “of the nature of the very low constituents of nature.”


broken vows they worship, everywhere proclaiming me and bowing down to me. Others with the sacrifice of knowledge in other ways worship me as indivisible, as separable, as the Spirit of the universe. I am the sacrifice and sacrificial rite; I am the libation offered to ancestors, and the spices; I am the sacred formula and the fire; I am the food and the sacrificial butter; I am the father and the mother of this universe, the grandsire and the preserver; I am the Holy One, the object of knowledge, the mystic purifying syllable OM, the Rik, the Saman, the Yajur, and all the Vedas. I am the goal, the Comforter, the Lord, the Witness, the resting-place, the asylum and the Friend; I am the origin and the dissolution, the receptacle, the storehouse, and the eternal seed. I cause light and heat and rain; I now draw in and now let forth; I am death and immortality; I am the cause unseen and the visible effect. Those enlightened in the three Vedas, offering sacrifices to me and obtaining sanctification from drinking the soma juice, * petition me for heaven;
* Among the Hindus the drinking of the soma at the end of a sacrifice is an act of great merit, with its analogy in the Christian faith in the drinking of the communion wine.


thus they attain the region of Indra,* the prince of celestial beings, and there feast upon celestial food and are gratified with heavenly enjoyments. And they, having enjoyed that spacious heaven for a period in proportion to their merits, sink back into this mortal world where they are born again as soon as their stock of merit is exhausted; thus those who long for the accomplishment of desires, following the Vedas, obtain a happiness which comes and goes. But for those who, thinking of me as identical with all, constantly worship me, I bear the burden of the responsibility of their happiness. And even those also who worship other gods with a firm faith in doing so, involuntarily worship me, too, O son of Kuntî, albeit in ignorance. I am he who is the Lord of all sacrifices, and am also their enjoyer, but they do not understand me truly and therefore they fall from heaven. Those who devote themselves to the gods go to the gods; the worshippers of the pitris go to the pitris; those who worship the evil
* “The region of Indra” is the highest of the celestial spheres. It is the devachan of theosophical literature, for Indra is the prince of the celestial beings who abide in deva-sthan.


spirits * go to them, and my worshippers come to me. I accept and enjoy the offerings of the humble soul who in his worship with a pure heart offereth a leaf, a flower, or fruit, or water unto me. Whatever thou doest, O son of Kuntî, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou sacrificest, whatever thou givest, whatever mortification thou performest, commit each unto me. Thus thou shalt be delivered from the good and evil experiences which are the bonds of action; and thy heart being joined to renunciation and to the practice of action, thou shalt come to me. I am the same to all creatures; I know not hatred nor favor; but those who serve me with love dwell in me and I in them. Even if the man of most evil ways worship me with exclusive devotion, he is to be considered as righteous, for he hath judged aright. Such a man soon becometh of a righteous soul and obtaineth perpetual happiness. I swear, O son of Kuntî, that he who worships me never perisheth. Those even who may be of the womb of sin,
* These evil spirits are the Bhutas, and are the same as the so-called spirits of the dead―the shells – worshipped or run after at spiritualistic seances.


women,   vaisyas, and sudras,* shall tread the highest path if they take sanctuary with me. How much more, then, holy brahmans and devotees of kingly race! Having obtained this finite, joyless world, worship me. Serve me, fix heart and mind on me, be my servant, my adorer, prostrate thyself before me, and thus, united unto me, at rest, thou shalt go unto me.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Ninth Chapter, by name―


 This may seem strange to those who have been born in Christendom, and perhaps appear to be testimony to harsh views on the part of Hindu sages respecting women, but in the Bible the same thing is to be found and even worse, where in I Tim. 2, 11-15, it is declared that the woman shall be saved through her husband, and that she must be subservient.
Vaisyas and sudras are the two lower castes, or merchants and servitors.




Hear again, O thou of mighty arms, my supreme words, which unto thee who art well pleased I will declare because I am anxious for thy welfare.

“Neither the assemblage of the Gods nor the Adept Kings know my origin, because I am the origin of all the Gods and of the Adepts. Whosoever knoweth me to be the mighty Ruler of the universe and without birth or beginning, he among men, undeluded, shall be liberated from all his sins. Subtle perception, spiritual knowledge, right judgment, patience, truth, self-mastery; pleasure and pain, prosperity and adversity; birth and death, danger and security, fear and equanimity, satisfaction, restraint of body and mind, alms-giving, inoffensiveness, zeal and glory and ignominy, all these the various dispositions of creatures come from me. So in former days the seven great Sages and the


four Manus who are of my nature were born of my mind, and from them sprang this world. He who knoweth perfectly this permanence and mystic faculty of mine becometh without doubt possessed of unshaken faith. I am the origin of all; all things proceed from me; believing me to be thus, the wise gifted with spiritual wisdom worship me; their very hearts and minds are in me; enlightening one another and constantly speaking of me, they are full of enjoyment and satisfaction. To them thus always devoted to me, who worship me with love, I give that mental devotion by which they come to me. For them do I out of my compassion, standing within their hearts, destroy the darkness which springs from ignorance by the brilliant lamp of spiritual discernment.”

“Thou art Parabrahm! * the supreme abode, the great Purification; thou art the Eternal Presence, the divine Being, before all other Gods, holy, primeval, all-pervading, without beginning! Thus thou art declared by all the Sages – by Narada, Asita, Devala,
* Beyond Brahma.


Vyasa, and thou thyself now doth say the same. I firmly believe all that thou, O Keshava, sayest unto me; for neither Gods nor demons comprehend thy manifestations. Thou alone knowest thyself by thy Self, Supreme Spirit, Creator and Master of all that lives, God of Gods, and Lord of all the universe! Thou alone can fully declare thy divine powers by which thou hast pervaded and continueth to pervade these worlds. How shall I, constantly thinking of thee, be able to know thee, O mysterious Lord? In what particular forms shall I meditate on thee? O Janardana―besought by mortals―tell me therefore in full thine own powers and forms of manifestation, for I am never sated of drinking of the life-giving water of thy words.”

“O best of Kurus, blessings be upon thee. * I will make thee acquainted with the chief of my divine manifestations, for the extent of my nature is infinite.
* In the original the first word is one which carries a blessing with it; it is a benediction and means “now then,” but this in English conveys no idea of a benediction.


“I am the Ego which is seated in the hearts of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all existing things. Among Adityas* I am Vishnu, and among luminous bodies I am the sun. I am Mrichi among the Maruts, and among heavenly mansions I am the moon. Among the Vedas I am the Samaveda, and Indra§among the Gods; among the senses and organs I am the Manas, ΐ and of creatures the existence. I am Shankara among the Rudras; and Vittesha, the lord of wealth among the Yakshas and Rakshasas.** I am Pavaka among the Vasus,╫╫ and Meru ‡‡ among high-aspiring mountains. And know, O son of Pritha, that I am Brihaspati,§§ the
  Adityas, the twelve Sun-gods, who at the recurrence of the time for dissolution by fire, bring on the universal     conflagration.
╫  The Gods of air.
  In Western language this may be said to be the Veda of song in the very highest sense of the power of song. Many nations held that song had   the  power to make even mere matter change and move obedient to the sound.
§   In the original it is “Vasava” which is a name of Indra
ΐ.   The heart or the mind.
     Spirits of a sensual nature.
**      An order of evil spirits.
╫╫    Among the first created Beings of a high order.
‡‡    Said by some to be the North Pole.
§§     Jupiter, the teacher of the Devas.


chief of teachers; among leaders of celestial armies Skanda, and of floods I am the ocean. I am Bhrigu among the Adept Kings; of words I am the monosyllable OM; of forms of worship, the silent repetition of sacred texts, and of immovable things I am the Himalaya. Of all the trees of the forest I am Ashwattha, the Pimpala tree; and of the celestial Sages, Narada; among Gandharbhas * I am Chitraratha, and of perfect saints, Kapila. Know that among horses I am Uchchisrava, who arose with the Amrita out of the ocean; among elephants, Airavata, and among men their sovereigns. Of weapons I am the thunderbolt; among cows, Kamaduk, the cow of plenty; of procreators, the god of love, and of serpents, Vasuki,  their chief. I am Ananta among the Nagas,  Varuna among things of the waters; among the ancestors, Aryana, and of all who judge I am Yama. § Among the Daityas I am Prahlada, and among computations I am Time itself; the lion among
*    Celestial host of singers; they are a class of elementals.
   Poisonous serpents.
  Non-poisonous serpents of a fabled sort, said to have speech and wisdom.
§   The Judge of the dead. 


beasts, and Garuda * among the feathered tribe. Among purifiers I am Pavana, the air; Rama among those who carry arms, Makara among the fishes, and the Ganges among rivers. Among that which is evolved, O Arjuna, I am the beginning, the middle, and the end; of all sciences I am the knowledge of the Adhyâtma,  and of uttered sounds the human speech. Among letters I am the vowel A, and of all compound words I am the Dwandwa; I am endless time itself, and the Preserver whose face is turned on all sides. I am all-grasping death, and the birth of those who are to be; among feminine things I am fame, fortune, speech, memory, intelligence, patience, and forgiveness. Among the hymns of the Samaveda I am Brihat Saman, and the Gayatri among metres; among months I am the month Margashirsha, § and of seasons spring called Kusumakra, the time of flowers.
* Garuda, the bird of Vishnu, and also means esoterically the whole manvantaric cycle.
 The highest spiritual knowledge.
‡ A form of compound word in the Sanskrit which preserves the meaning of the words making up the compound.
§ The month when the regular rains have stopped and the heat abated.


Of those things which deceive I am the dice, and splendor itself among splendid things. I am victory, I am perseverance, and the goodness of the good. Of the race of Vrishni I am Vasudeva; of the Pandava I am Arjuna the conqueror of wealth; of perfect saints I am Vyasa, * and of prophet-seers I am the bard Oosana. Among rulers I am the rod of punishment, among those desiring conquest I am policy; and among the wise of secret knowledge I am their silence. I am, O Arjuna, the seed of all existing things, and there is not anything, whether animate or inanimate which is without me. My divine manifestations, O harasser of thy foes, are without end, the many which I have mentioned are by way of example. Whatever creature is permanent, of good fortune or mighty, also know it to be sprung from a portion of my energy. But what, O Arjuna, hast thou to do with so much knowledge as this? I established this whole universe with a single portion of myself, and remain separate.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme
Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata.


Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Tenth Chapter, by name―




My delusion has been dispersed by the words which thou for my soul’s peace hast spoken concerning the mystery of the Adhyâtma – the spirit. For I have heard at full length from thee, O thou whose eyes are like lotus leaves, the origin and dissolution of existing things, and also thy inexhaustible majesty. It is even as thou hast described thyself, O mighty Lord; I now desire to see thy divine form, O sovereign Lord. Wherefore, O Lord, if thou thinkest it may be beheld by me, show me, O Master of devotion, thine inexhaustible Self.”

“Behold, O son of Pritha, my forms by hundreds and by thousands, of diverse kinds divine, of many shapes and fashions. Behold the Adityas, Vasus, Rudras, Aswins, and the Maruts, see things wonderful never seen be-


fore, O son of Bharata. Here in my body now behold, O Gudakesha, the whole universe animate and inanimate gathered here in one, and all things else thou hast a wish to see. But as with thy natural eyes thou art not able to see me, I will give thee the divine eye. Behold my sovereign power and might!”

O king, having thus spoken, Hari, * the mighty Lord of mysterious power, showed to the son of Pritha his supreme form; with many mouths and eyes and many wonderful appearances, with many divine ornaments, many celestial weapons upraised; adorned with celestial garlands and robes, anointed with celestial ointments and perfumes, full of every marvelous thing, the eternal god whose face is turned in all directions. The glory and amazing splendor of this mighty Being may be likened to the radiance shed by a thousand suns rising together into the heavens. The son of Pandu then beheld within the body of the God of gods the whole uni-
* Hari, an epithet of Krishna, meaning that he has the power to remove all difficulty.


verse in all its vast variety. Overwhelmed with wonder, Dhananjaya, * the possessor of wealth, with hair standing on end, bowed down his head before the Deity, and thus with joined palms  addressed him:

“I behold, O god of gods, within thy frame all beings and things of every kind; the Lord Brahmâ on his lotus throne, all the Rishees and the heavenly Serpents.
 I see thee on all sides, of infinite forms, having many arms, stomachs, mouths, and eyes. But I can discover neither thy beginning, thy middle, nor thy end, O universal Lord, form of the universe. I see thee crowned with a diadem and armed with mace and chakra, § a mass of splendor, darting light on all sides; difficult to behold, shining in every direction with light immeasurable, like the burning fire or
* Arjuna.
 This is the Hindu mode of salutation.
 These are the Uragas, said to be serpents. But it must refer to the great Masters of Wisdom, who were often called Serpents.
§ Among human weapons this would be known as the discus, but here it means the whirling wheels of spiritual will and power


glowing sun. Thou art the supreme inexhaustible Being, the end of effort, changeless, the Supreme Spirit of this universe, the never-failing guardian of eternal law: I esteem thee Purusha,* I see thee without beginning, middle, or end, of infinite power with arms innumerable, the sun and moon thy eyes, thy mouth a flaming fire, overmastering the whole universe with thy majesty. Space and heaven, and earth and every point around the three regions of the universe are filled with thee alone. The triple world is full of fear, O thou mighty Spirit, seeing this thy marvelous form of terror. Of the assemblage of the gods some I see fly to thee for refuge, while some in fear with joined hands sing forth thy praise; the hosts of the Maharshis and Siddhas, great sages and saints, hail thee, saying ‘svasti,’ and glorify thee with most excellent hymns. The Rudras, Adityas, the Vasus, and all those beings – the Sadhyas, Vishwas, the Ashwins, Maruts, and Ushmapas, the hosts of Gandharbhas, Yakshas, and
* Purusha, the Eternal Person. The same name is also given to man by the Hindus.
╫  This cry is supposed to be for the benefit of the world, and has that meaning.


Siddhas *―all stand gazing on thee and are amazed. All the worlds alike with me are terrified to behold thy wondrous form gigantic, O thou of mighty arms, with many mouths and eyes, with many arms, thighs and feet, with many stomachs and projecting tusks. For seeing thee thus touching the heavens, shining with such glory, with widely-opened mouths and bright expanded eyes, my inmost soul is troubled and I lose both firmness and tranquility, O Vishnu. Beholding thy dreadful teeth and thy face like the burning of death, I can see neither heaven nor earth; I find no peace; have mercy, O Lord of gods, thou Spirit of the universe! The sons of Dhritarâshtra with all these rulers of men, Bhîshma, Drôna and also Karna and our principal warriors, seem to be impetuously precipitating themselves into thy mouths terrible with tusks; some are seen caught between thy teeth, their heads ground down. As the rapid streams of full-flowing rivers roll on to meet the ocean, even so these
* All these names refer to different classes of celestial beings, some of which are now called in theosophical literature, “elementals”; the others are explained in H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine.


heroes of the human race rush into thy flaming mouths. As troops of insects carried away by strong impulse find death in the fire, even so do these beings with swelling force pour into thy mouths for their own destruction. Thou involvest and swallowest all these creatures from every side, licking them in thy flaming lips; filling the universe with thy splendor, thy sharp beams burn, O Vishnu. Reverence be unto thee, O best of Gods! Be favorable! I seek to know thee, the Primeval One, for I know not thy work.”

“I am Time matured, come hither for the destruction of these creatures; except thyself, not one of all these warriors here drawn up in serried ranks shall live. Wherefore, arise! seize fame! Defeat the foe and enjoy the full-grown kingdom! They have been already slain by me; be thou only the immediate agent, O thou both-armed one. * Be not disturbed. Slay Drôna, Bhîshma, Jayadratha, Karna, and all the other heroes of the war
* Arjuna was a famous archer who could use the celestial bow, Gandiva, with either hand equally well.


who are really slain by me. Fight, thou wilt conquer all thine enemies.”

When he of the resplendent diadem * heard these words from the mouth of Keshava, 
  he saluted Krishna with joined palms and trembling with fear, addressed him in broken accents, and bowed down terrified before him.

“The universe, O Hrishekesha, 
 is justly delighted with thy glory and is filled with zeal for thy service; the evil spirits are affrighted and flee on all sides, while all the hosts of saints bow down in adoration before thee. And wherefore should they not adore thee, O mighty Being, thou who art greater than Brahmâ, who art the first Maker? O eternal God of gods! O habitation of the universe! Thou art the one indivisible Being, and non-being, that which is supreme. Thou art the first of Gods, the most ancient Spirit;
* Arjuna wore a brilliant tiara.
  Krishna, by other names.


thou art the final supreme receptacle* of this universe; thou art the Knower and that which is to be known, and the supreme mansion; and by thee, O thou of infinite form, is this universe caused to emanate. Thou art Vayu, God of wind, Agni, god of fire, Yama, god of death, Varuna, God of waters; thou art the moon; Prajapati, the progenitor and grandfather, art thou. Hail! hail to thee! Hail to thee a thousand times repeated! Again and again hail to thee! Hail to thee! Hail to thee from before! Hail to thee from behind! Hail to thee on all sides, O thou All! Infinite is thy power and might; thou includest all things, therefore thou art all things!

“Having been ignorant of thy majesty, I took thee for a friend, and have called thee ‘O Krishna, O son of Yadu, O friend,’ and blinded by my affection and presumption, I have at times treated thee without respect in sport, in recreation, in repose, in thy chair, and at thy meals, in private and in public; all this I beseech thee, O inconceivable Being, to forgive.
 That is, that into which the universe is resolved on the final dissolution.


“Thou art the father of all things animate and inanimate; thou art to be honored as above the guru himself, and worthy to be adored; there is none equal to thee, and how in the triple worlds could there be thy superior, O thou of unrivalled power? Therefore I bow down and with my body prostrate, I implore thee, O Lord, for mercy. Forgive, O Lord, as the friend forgives the friend, as the father pardons his son, as the lover the beloved. I am well pleased with having beheld what was never before seen, and yet my heart is overwhelmed with awe; have mercy then, O God; show me that other form, O thou who art the dwelling-place of the universe; I desire to see thee as before with thy diadem on thy head, thy hands armed with mace and chakra; assume again, O thou of a thousand arms and universal form, thy four-armed shape!” *

Out of kindness to thee, O Arjuna, by my divine power I have shown thee my supreme
Arjuna had been accustomed to see Krishna in his four-armed form, not only in the images shown in youth, but also when Krishna came into incarnation, and could therefore look on the four-armed form without fear.


form, the universe, resplendent, infinite, primeval, and which has never been beheld by any other than thee. Neither by studying the Vedas, nor by alms-giving, nor by sacrificial rites, nor by deeds, nor by the severest mortification of the flesh can I be seen in this form by any other than thee, O best of Kurus. Having beheld my form thus awful, be not disturbed nor let thy faculties be confounded, but with fears allayed and happiness of heart look upon this other form of mine again.”

Vasudeva * having so spoken reassumed his natural form; and thus in milder shape the Great One presently assuaged the fears of the terrified Arjuna.

“Now that I see again thy placid human shape, O Janardana, who art prayed to by mortals, my mind is no more disturbed and I am self-possessed.”
* A name of Krishna.


“Thou hast seen this form of mine which is difficult to be perceived and which even the gods are always anxious to behold. But I am not to be seen, even as I have shown myself to thee, by study of the Vedas, nor by mortifications, nor alms-giving, nor sacrifices. I am to be approached and seen and known in truth by means of that devotion which has me alone as the object. He whose actions are for me alone, who esteemeth me the supreme goal, who is my servant only, without attachment to the results of action and free from enmity towards any creature, cometh to me, O son of Pandu.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Eleventh Chapter, by name―





Among those of thy devotees who always thus worship thee, * which take the better way, those who worship the indivisible and unmanifested, or those who serve thee as thou now art?”

“Those who worship me with constant zeal, with the highest faith and minds placed on me, are held in high esteem by me. But those who, with minds equal toward everything, with senses and organs restrained, and rejoicing in the good of all creatures, meditate on the inexhaustible, immovable, highest, incorruptible, difficult to contemplate, invisible, omnipresent, unthinkable, the witness, undemonstrable, shall also come unto me. For those whose hearts are fixed on the unmani-
* That is, as described at the end of Chapter XI.


fested the labor is greater, because the path which is not manifest is with difficulty attained by corporeal beings.*But for those who worship me, renouncing in me all their actions, regarding me as the supreme goal and meditating on me alone, if their thoughts are turned to me, O son of Pritha, I presently become the savior from this ocean of incarnations and death. Place, then, thy heart on me, penetrate me with thy understanding, and thou shalt without doubt hereafter dwell in me. But if thou shouldst be unable at once steadfastly to fix thy heart and mind on me, strive then, O Dhananjaya, to find me by constant practice in devotion. If after constant practice, thou art still unable, follow me by actions performed for me; for by doing works for me thou shalt attain perfection. But if thou art unequal even to this, then, being self-restrained, place all thy works, failures and successes alike, on me, abandon-
* The difficulty here stated is that caused by the personality, which causes us to see the Supreme as different and separate from ourselves.
 The works referred to here are special works of all kinds performed for the sake of the Supreme Being, which will have their effect upon the performer in future lives.


ing in me the fruit of every action. For knowledge is better than constant practice, meditation is superior to knowledge, renunciation of the fruit of action to meditation; final emancipation immediately results from such renunciation.

“My devotee who is free from enmity, well-disposed towards all creatures, merciful, wholly exempt from pride and selfishness, the same in pain and pleasure, patient of wrongs, contented, constantly devout, self-governed, firm in resolves, and whose mind and heart are fixed on me alone, is dear unto me. He also is my beloved of whom mankind is not afraid and who has no fear of man; who is free from joy, from despondency and the dread of harm. My devotee who is unexpecting,* pure, just, impartial, devoid of fear, and who hath forsaken interest in the results of action, is dear unto me. He also is worthy of my love who neither rejoiceth nor findeth fault, who neither lamenteth nor coveteth, and being my servant hath forsaken interest in both good and evil results. He also is my beloved servant who is equal-minded
* In the original this reads as “not peering about.”


to friend or foe, the same in honor and dishonor, in cold and heat, in pain and pleasure, and is unsolicitous about the event of things; to whom praise and blame are as one; who is of little speech, content with whatever cometh to pass, who hath no fixed habitation, and whose heart, full of devotion, is firmly fixed. But those who seek this sacred ambrosia―the religion of immortality―even as I have explained it, full of faith, intent on me above all others, and united to devotion, are my most beloved.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Twelfth Chapter, by name―




This perishable body, O son of Kuntî, is known as Kshetra; those who are acquainted with the true nature of things call the soul who knows it, the Kshetrajna. Know also that I am the Knower in every mortal body, O son of Bharata; that knowledge which through the soul is a realization of both the known and the knower is alone esteemed by me as wisdom. What the Kshetra or body is, what it resembleth, what it produceth, and what is its origin, and also who he is who, dwelling within, knoweth it, as well as what is his power, learn all in brief from me. It has been manifoldly sung by the Rishees with discrimination and with arguments in the various Vedic hymns which treat of Brahmâ.

“This body, then, is made up of the great elements, Ahankara – egotism, Buddhi – intellect or judgment, the unmanifest, invisi-


ble spirit; the ten centers of action, the mind, and the five objects of sense; desire, aversion, pleasure and pain, persistency of life, and firmness, the power of cohesion. Thus I have made known unto thee what the Kshetra or body is with its component parts.

“True wisdom of a spiritual kind is freedom from self-esteem, hypocrisy, and injury to others; it is patience, sincerity, respect for spiritual instructors, purity, firmness, self-restraint, dispassion for objects of sense, freedom from pride, and a meditation upon birth, death, decay, sickness, and error; it is an exemption from self-identifying attachment for children, wife, and household, and a constant unwavering steadiness of heart upon the arrival of every event whether favorable or unfavorable; it is a never-ceasing love for me alone, the self being effaced, and worship paid in a solitary spot, and a want of pleasure in congregations of men; it is a resolute continuance in the study of Adhyâtma, the Superior spirit, and a meditation upon the end of the acquirement of a knowledge of truth;―this is called wisdom or spiritual knowledge; its opposite is ignorance.


“I will now tell thee what is the object of wisdom, from knowing which a man enjoys immortality; it is that which has no beginning, even the supreme Brahmâ, and of which it cannot be said that it is either Being or Non-Being. It has hands and feet in all directions; eyes, heads, mouths, and ears in every direction; it is immanent in the world, possessing the vast whole. Itself without organs, it is reflected by all the senses and faculties; unattached, yet supporting all; without qualities, yet the witness of them all. It is within and without all creatures animate and inanimate; it is inconceivable because of its subtlety, and although near it is afar off. Although undivided it appeareth as divided among creatures, and while it sustains existing things, it is also to be known as their destroyer and creator. It is the light of all lights, and is declared to be beyond all darkness; and it is wisdom itself, the object of wisdom, and that which is to be obtained by wisdom; in the hearts of all it ever presideth. Thus hath been briefly declared what is the perishable body, and wisdom itself, together with the object of wisdom; he, my devotee,


who thus in truth conceiveth me, obtaineth my state.

“Know that prakriti or nature, and purusha the spirit, are without beginning. And know that the passions and the three qualities are sprung from nature. Nature orprakriti is said to be that which operates in producing cause and effect in actions; * individual spirit or purusha is said to be the cause of experiencing pain and pleasure. For spirit when invested with matter or prakriti experienceth the qualities which proceed from prakriti; its connection with these qualities is the cause of its rebirth in good and evil wombs.  The spirit in the body is called Maheswara, the Great Lord, the spectator, the admonisher, the sustainer, the enjoyer, and also the Paramâtma, the highest soul. He who thus knoweth
* Prakriti, matter or nature, is the cause of all action throughout the universe, as it is the basis by which action may take place; and herein are included all actions, whether of men, of gods, powers, or what not.
╫ Purusha is the aspect of the individual spirit in every human breast; it is the cause of our experiencing pain and pleasure through the connection with nature found in the body.
 Here purusha is the persisting individuality which connects all reincarnations, as if it were the thread, and has hence been called the “thread Soul.”


the spirit and nature, together with the qualities, whatever mode of life he may lead, is not born again on this earth.

“Some men by meditation, using contemplation upon the Self, behold the spirit within, others attain to that end by philosophical study with its realization, and others by means of the religion of works. Others, again, who are not acquainted with it in this manner, but have heard it from others, cleave unto and respect it; and even these, if assiduous only upon tradition and attentive to hearing the scriptures, pass beyond the gulf of death. *

“Know, O chief of the Bharatas, that whenever anything, whether animate or inanimate, is produced, it is due to the union of the Kshetra and Kshetrajna- body and the soul. He who seeth the Supreme Being existing alike imperishable in all perishable things, sees indeed. Perceiving the same Lord present in everything and everywhere, he does not by the lower self destroy his own soul, but goeth to the supreme end. He who seeth
* This last sentence means that they thus lay such a foundation as that in subsequent lives they will reach the other states and then to immortality.


that all his actions are performed by nature only, and that the self within is not the actor, sees indeed. And when he realizes perfectly that all things whatsoever in nature are comprehended in the ONE, he attains to the Supreme Spirit. This Supreme Spirit, O son of Kuntî, even when it is in the body, neither acteth nor is it affected by action, because, being without beginning and devoid of attributes, it is changeless. As the all-moving Akâsa by reason of its subtlety passeth everywhere unaffected, so the Spirit, though present in every kind of body, is not attached to action nor affected. As a single sun illuminateth the whole world, even so doth the One Spirit illumine every body, O son of Bharata. Those who with the eye of wisdom thus perceive what is the difference between the body and Spirit and the destruction of the illusion of objects, * go to the supreme.”
* This refers to what has previously been said about the great illusion produced by nature in causing us to see objects as different from Spirit, and it agrees with Patanjali, who says that, although the perfectly illuminated being has destroyed the illusion, it still has a hold upon those who are not illuminated – they will have to go through repeated rebirths until their time of deliverance also comes.


Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Thirteenth Chapter, by name―





I will explain further the sublime spiritual knowledge superior to all others, by knowing which all the sages have attained to supreme perfection on the dissolution of this body. They take sanctuary in this wisdom, and having attained to my state they are not born again even at the new evolution, nor are they disturbed at the time of general destruction.

“The great Brahmâ is my womb in which I place the seed; from that, O son of Bharata, is the production of all existing things. * this great Brahmâ is the womb for all those various forms which are produced from any womb, and I am the Father who provideth the seed. The three great qualities called sattva, rajas, and tamas―light or truth, passion
* In this verse Brahmâ is to be taken as prakriti, or nature.


or desire, and indifference or darkness―are born from nature, and bind the imperishable soul to body, O thou of mighty arms. Of these the sattva quality by reason of its lucidity and peacefulness entwineth the soul to rebirth through attachment to knowledge and that which is pleasant. Know that rajas is of the nature of desire, producing thirst and propensity; it, O son of Kuntî, imprisoneth the Ego through the consequences produced from action. The quality of tamas, the offspring of the indifference in nature, is the deluder of all creatures, O son of Bharata; it imprisoneth the Ego in a body through heedless folly, sleep, and idleness. The sattva quality attaches the soul through happiness and pleasure, the rajas through action, and tamas quality surrounding the power of judgment with indifference attaches the soul through heedlessness.

“When, O son of Bharata, the qualities of tamas and rajas are overcome, then that of sattva prevaileth; tamas is chiefly acting when sattva and rajas are hidden; and when the sattva and tamas diminish, then rajas prevaileth. When wisdom, the bright light, shall


become evident at every gate of the body, then one may know that the sattva quality is prevalent within. The love of gain, activity in action, and the initiating of works, restlessness and inordinate desire are produced when the quality of rajas is prevalent, whilst the tokens of the predominance of the tamas quality are absence of illumination, the presence of idleness, heedlessness, and delusion, O son of Kuntî.

“If the body is dissolved when the sattva quality prevails, the self within proceeds to the spotless spheres of those who are acquainted with the highest place. When the body is dissolved while the quality of rajas is predominant, the soul is born again in a body attached to action; and so also of one who dies while tamas quality is prevalent, the soul is born again in the wombs of those who are deluded.

“The fruit of righteous acts is called pure and holy, appertaining to sattva; from rajas is gathered fruit in pain, and the tamas produceth only senselessness, ignorance, and indifference. From sattva wisdom is produced, from rajas desire, from tamas ignorance, delusion and folly. Those in whom the sattva


quality is established mount on high, those who are full of rajas remain in the middle sphere, the world of men, while those who are overborne by the gloomy quality,tamas, sink below. But when the wise man perceiveth that the only agents of action are these qualities, and comprehends that which is superior to the qualities, he attains to my state. And when the embodied self surpasseth these three qualities of goodness, action, and indifference―which are coëxistent with the body it is released from rebirth and death, old age and pain, and drinketh of the water of immortality.”

“What are the characteristic marks by which the man may be known, O Master, who hath surpassed the three qualities? What is his course of life, and what are the means by which he overcometh the qualities?”

“He, O son of Pandu, who doth not hate these qualities―illumination, action, and delusion―when they appear, nor longeth for them when they disappear; who, like one who


is of no party, sitteth as one unconcerned about the three qualities and undisturbed by them, who being persuaded that the qualities exist, is moved not by them; who is of equal mind in pain and pleasure, self-centered, to whom a lump of earth, a stone, or gold are as one; who is of equal mind with those who love or dislike, constant, the same whether blamed or praised; equally minded in honor and disgrace, and the same toward friendly or unfriendly side, engaging only in necessary actions, such an one hath surmounted the qualities. And he, my servant, who worships me with exclusive devotion, having completely overcome the qualities, is fitted to be absorbed in Brahmâ the Supreme. I am the embodiment of the Supreme Ruler, and of the incorruptible, of the unmodifying, and of the eternal law, and of endless bliss.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Fourteenth Chapter, by name―




Men say that the Ashwattha, the eternal sacred tree, * grows with its roots above and its branches below, and the leaves of which are the Vedas; he who knows this knows the Vedas. Its branches growing out of the three qualities 
 with the objects of sense as the lesser shoots, spread forth, some above and some below; and those roots which ramify below in the regions of mankind are the connecting bonds of action. Its form is not thus understood by men; it has no beginning, nor can its present constitution be understood , nor has it any end. When one hath hewn down with the strong axe of dispassion this Ashwattha tree with its deeply-
This is a symbol for the universe, which, although apparently destroyed and then again renovated, is never ending, for it is the same as the Evolutionary Stream.
╫  See preceding Chapter.
 This means that the bound Ego cannot understand it.


imbedded roots, then that place is to be sought after from which those who there take refuge never more return to rebirth, for it * is the Primeval Spirit from which floweth the never-ending stream of conditioned existence. Those who are free from pride of self and whose discrimination is perfected, who have prevailed over the fault of attachment to action, who are constantly employed in devotion to meditation upon the Supreme Spirit, who have renounced desire and are free from the influence of the opposites known as pleasure and pain, are undeluded, and proceed to that place which endureth forever. Neither the sun nor the moon nor the fire enlighteneth that place; from it there is no return; it is my supreme abode.

“It is even a portion of myself which, having assumed life in this world of conditioned existence, draweth together the five senses and the mind in order that it may obtain a body and may leave it again. And those are carried by the Sovereign Lord to and from whatever body he enters or quits, even as the
* It is the place of the Supreme.


breeze bears the fragrance from the flower. Presiding over the eye, the ear, the touch, the taste, and the power of smelling, and also over the mind, he experienceth the objects of sense. The deluded do not see the spirit when it quitteth or remains in the body, nor when, moved by the qualities, it has experience in the world. But those who have the eye of wisdom perceive it, and devotees who industriously strive to do so see it dwelling in their own hearts; whilst those who have not overcome themselves, who are devoid of discrimination, see it not even though they strive, thereafter. Know that the brilliance of the sun which illuminateth the whole world, and the light which is in the moon and in the fire, are the splendor of myself. I enter the earth supporting all living things by my power, and I am that property of sap which is taste, nourishing all the herbs and plants of the field. Becoming the internal fire of the living, I associate with the upward and downward breathing, and cause the four kinds of food to digest. I am in the hearts of all men, and from me come memory, knowledge, and also the loss of both. I am to


be known by all the Vedas; I am he who is the author of the Vedanta, and I alone am the interpreter of the Vedas.

“There are two kinds of beings in the world, the one divisible, the other indivisible; the divisible is all things and the creatures, the indivisible is called Kûtastha, or he who standeth on high unaffected. But there is another spirit designated as the Supreme Spirit―Paramâtma―which permeates and sustains the three worlds. As I am above the divisible and also superior to the indivisible, therefore both in the world and in the Vedas am I known as the Supreme Spirit. He who being not deluded knoweth me thus as the Supreme Spirit, knoweth all things and worships me under every form and condition.

“Thus, O sinless one, have I declared unto thee this most sacred science; he who understandeth it, O son of Bharata, will be a wise man and the performer of all that is to be done.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the collo-


quy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Fifteenth Chapter, by name―





Fearlessness, sincerity, assiduity in devotion, generosity, self-restraint, piety, and alms-givings, study, mortification, and rectitude; harmlessness, veracity, and freedom from anger, resignation, equanimity, and not speaking of the faults of others, universal compassion, modesty, and mildness; patience, power, fortitude, and purity, discretion, dignity, unrevengefulness, and freedom from conceit―these are the marks of him whose virtues are of a godlike character, O son of Bharata. Those, O son of Pritha, who are born with demoniacal dispositions are marked by hypocrisy, pride, anger, presumption, harshness of speech, and ignorance. The destiny of those whose attributes are godlike is final liberation, while those of demoniacal dispositions, born to the Asuras’ lot, [suffer] continued bondage to mortal birth; grieve not,


O son of Pandu, for thou art born with the divine destiny. There are two kinds of natures in beings in this world, that which is godlike, and the other which is demoniacal; the godlike hath been fully declared, hear now from me, O son of Pritha, what the demoniacal is.

“Those who are born with the demoniacal disposition―of the nature of the Asuras―know not the nature of action nor of cessation from action, they know not purity nor right behavior, they possess no truthfulness. They deny that the universe has any truth in it, saying it is not governed by law, declaring that it hath no Spirit; they say creatures are produced alone through the union of the sexes, and that all is for enjoyment only. Maintaining this view, their souls being ruined, their minds contracted, with natures perverted, enemies of the world, they are born to destroy. They indulge insatiable desires, are full of hypocrisy, fast-fixed in false beliefs through their delusions. They indulge in unlimited reflections which end only in annihilation, convinced until death that the enjoyment of the objects of their desires is


the supreme good. Fast-bound by the hundred chords of desire, prone to lust and anger, they seek by injustice and the accumulation of wealth for the gratification of their own lusts and appetites. ‘This to-day hath been acquired by me, and that object of my heart I shall obtain; this wealth I have, and that also shall be mine. This foe have I already slain, and others will I forthwith vanquish; I am the lord, I am powerful, and I am happy. I am rich and with precedence among men; where is there another like unto me? I shall make sacrifices, give alms, and enjoy.’ In this manner do those speak who are deluded. Confounded by all manner of desires, entangled in the net of delusion, firmly attached to the gratification of their desires, they descend into hell. Esteeming themselves very highly, self-willed, full of pride and ever in pursuit of riches, they perform worship with hypocrisy and not even according to ritual, * but only for outward show. Indulging in pride, selfishness, ostentation, power, lust, and
* This refers to the irregular performance of Vedic sacrifices by those who are without the right spiritual gifts, and only wish to imitate ostentatiously the right performance.


anger, they detest me who am in their bodies and in the bodies of others. Wherefore I continually hurl these cruel haters, the lowest of men, into wombs of an infernal nature in this world of rebirth. And they being doomed to those infernal wombs, more and more deluded in each succeeding rebirth, never come to me, O son of Kuntî, but go at length to the lowest region. *

“The gates of hell are three―desire, anger, covetousness, which destroy the soul; wherefore one should abandon them. Being free from these three gates of hell, O son of Kuntî, a man worketh for the salvation of his soul, and thus proceeds to the highest path. He who abandoneth the ordinances of the Scriptures to follow the dictates of his own desires, attaineth neither perfection nor happiness nor the highest path. Therefore, in deciding what is fit and what unfit to be done, thou shouldst perform actions on earth with a knowledge of what is declared in Holy Writ.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy
* This is final annihilation of those who deny their own soul and thus lose it. It is worse than the hell before spoken of for there is no return.


Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Sixteenth Chapter, by name―





What is the state of those men who, while they neglect the precepts of the Scriptures, yet worship in faith, O Krishna? Is it of the sattva, the rajas, or the tamas quality?”

“The faith of mortals is of three kinds, and is born from their own disposition; it is of the quality of truth – sattva, action – rajas, and indifference – tamas; hear now what those are.

“The faith of each one, O son of Bharata, proceeds from the sattva quality; the embodied soul being gifted with faith, each man is of the same nature as that ideal on which his faith is fixed. Those who are of the disposition which ariseth from the prevalence of the sattva or good quality worship the gods; those of the quality of rajasworship the celestial


powers, the Yakshas and Râkshasas; other men in whom the dark quality of indifference or tamas predominates worship elemental powers and the ghosts of dead men. Those who practice severe self-mortification not enjoined in the Scriptures are full of hypocrisy and pride, longing for what is past and desiring more to come. They, full of delusion, torture the powers and faculties which are in the body, and me also, who am in the recesses of the innermost heart; know that they are of an infernal tendency.

“Know that food which is pleasant to each one, as also sacrifices, mortification, and almsgiving, are of three kinds; hear what their divisions are. The food which increases the length of days, vigor and strength, which keeps one free from sickness, of tranquil mind, and contented, and which is savory, nourishing, of permanent benefit and congenial to the body, is that which is attractive to those in whom the sattva quality prevaileth. The food which is liked by those of the rajas quality is over bitter, too acid, excessively salt, hot, pungent, dry and burning, and causeth unpleasantness, pain, and disease. Whatever


food is such as was dressed the day before, that is tasteless or rotting, that is impure, is that which is preferred by those in whom predominates the quality of tamas or indifference.

“The sacrifice or worship which is directed by Scripture and is performed by those who expect no reward but who are convinced that it is necessary to be done, is of the quality of light, of goodness, of sattva. But know that that worship or sacrifice which is performed with a view to its results, and also for an ostentation of piety, belongs to passion, the quality of rajas, O best of the Bharatas. But that which is not according to the precepts of Holy Writ, without distribution of bread, without sacred hymns, without gifts to brahmans at the conclusion, and without faith, is of the quality of tamas.

“Honoring the gods, the brahmans, the teachers, and the wise, purity, rectitude, chastity, and harmlessness are called mortification of the body. Gentle speech which causes no anxiety, which is truthful and friendly, and diligence in the reading of the Scriptures, are said to be austerities of speech. Serenity of mind, mildness of temper, silence,


self-restraint, absolute straightforwardness of conduct, are called mortification of the mind. This threefold mortification or austerity practiced with supreme faith and by those who long not for a reward is of the sattva quality.

“But that austerity which is practiced with hypocrisy, for the sake of obtaining respect for oneself or for fame or favor, and which is uncertain and belonging wholly to this world, is of the quality of rajas. Those austerities which are practiced merely by wounding oneself or from a false judgment or for the hurting of another are of the quality of tamas. Those gifts which are bestowed at the proper time to the proper person, and by men who are not desirous of a return, are of the sattva quality, good and of the nature of truth. But that gift which is given with the expectation of a return from the beneficiary or with a view to spiritual benefit flowing therefrom or with reluctance, is of the rajas quality, bad and partaketh of untruth. Gifts given out of place and season and to unworthy persons, without proper attention and scornfully, are of the tamas quality, wholly bad and of the nature of darkness.


“OM TAT SAT, these are said to be the threefold designation of the Supreme Being. By these in the beginning were sanctified the knowers of Brahmâ, * the Vedas, and sacrifices. Therefore the sacrifices, the giving of alms, and the practicing of austerities are always, among those who expound Holy Writ, preceded by the word OM. Among those who long for immortality and who do not consider the reward for their actions, the word TAT precedes their rites of sacrifice, their austerities, and giving of alms. The word SAT is used for qualities that are true and holy, and likewise is applied to laudable actions, O son of Pritha. The state of mental sacrifice when actions are at rest is also called SAT. Whatever is done without faith, whether it be sacrifice, alms-giving, or austerities, is called ASAT, that which is devoid of truth and goodness, O son of Pritha, and is not of any benefit either in this life or after death.”

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme
* It reads “Brahmanas,” and does not seem to refer to any caste.


Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Seventeenth Chapter, by name―




I wish to learn, O great-armed one, the nature of abstaining from action and of the giving up of the results of action, and also the difference between these two, O slayer of Keshin.” *

“The bards conceive that the forsaking of actions which have a desired object is renunciation or Sannyasa; the wise call the disregard of the fruit of every action true disinterestedness in action. By some wise men it is said, ‘Every action is as much to be avoided as a crime,’ while by others it is declared, ‘Deeds of sacrifice, of mortification, and of charity should not be forsaken.’ Among these divided opinions hear my certain deci-
* Keshin was a daitya, a demon, fabled to have been sent by Kansa for the purpose of destroying Krishna.


sion, O best of the Bharatas, upon this matter of disinterested forsaking, which is declared to be of three kinds, O chief of men. Deeds of sacrifice, of mortification, and of charity are not to be abandoned, for they are proper to be performed, and are the purifiers of the wise. But even those works are to be performed after having renounced all selfish interest in them and in their fruits; this, O son of Pritha, is my ultimate and supreme decision. The abstention from works which are necessary and obligatory is improper; the not doing of such actions is due to delusion springing from the quality of tamas. The refraining from works because they are painful and from the dread of annoyance ariseth from the quality of rajas which belongs to passion, and he who thus leaves undone what he ought to do shall not obtain the fruit which comes from right forsaking. The work which is performed, O Arjuna, because it is necessary, obligatory, and proper, with all self-interest therein put aside and attachment to the action absent, is declared to be of the quality of truth and goodness which is known as sattva. The true renouncer, full of the


quality of goodness, wise and exempt from all doubt, is averse neither to those works which fail nor those which succeed. It is impossible for mortals to utterly abandon actions; but he who gives up the results of action is the true renouncer. The threefold results of action―unwished for, wished for, and mixed―accrue after death to those who do not practice this renunciation, but no results follow those who perfectly renounce. *

“Learn, O great-armed one, that for the accomplishment of every work five agents are necessary, as is declared. These are the substratum, the agent, the various sorts of organs, the various and distinct movements and with these, as fifth, the presiding deities. These five agents are included in the performance of every act which a man undertaketh, whether with his body, his speech, or his mind. This being thus, whoever because of the imperfection of his mind beholdeth the real self as the agent thinketh wrongly and seeth not aright. He whose nature is free
* This verse refers not only to effects after death in the post-mortem states, but also to subsequent lives in the body upon reincarnating.


from egotism and whose power of discrimination is not blinded does not slay though he killeth all these people, and is not bound by the bonds of action. The three causes which incite to action are knowledge, the thing to be known, and the knower, and threefold also is the totality of the action in the act, the instrument, and the agent. Knowledge, the act, and the agent are also distinguished in three ways according to the three qualities; listen to their enumeration after that classification.

“Know that the wisdom which perceives in all nature one single principle, indivisible and incorruptible, not separate in the separate objects seen, is of the sattva quality. The knowledge which perceives different and manifold principles as present in the world of created beings pertains to rajas, the quality of passion. But that knowledge, wholly without value, which is mean, attached to one object alone as if it were the whole, which does not see the true cause of existence, is of the nature of tamas, indifferent and dark.

“The action which is right to be done, performed without attachment to results, free


from pride and selfishness, is of the sattva quality. That one is of the rajas quality which is done with a view to its consequences, or with great exertion, or with egotism. And that which in consequence of delusion is undertaken without regard to its consequences, or the power to carry it out, or the harm it may cause, is of the quality of darkness―tamas.

“The doer who performs necessary actions unattached to their consequences and without love or hatred is of the nature of the quality of truth―sattva. The doer whose actions are performed with attachment to the result, with great exertion, for the gratification of his lusts and with pride, covetousness, uncleanness, and attended with rejoicing and grieving, is of the quality of rajas―passion and desire. The doer who is ignorant, foolish, undertaking actions without ability, without discrimination, with sloth, deceit, obstinacy, mischievousness, and dilatoriness, is of the quality of tamas.

Hear now, O Dhananjaya, conqueror of wealth, the differences which I shall now ex-


plain in the discerning power * and the steadfast power within, according to the three classes flowing from the divisions of the three qualities. The discerning power that knows how to begin and to renounce, what should and what should not be done, what is to be feared and what not, what holds fast and what sets the soul free, is of thesattva quality. That discernment, O son of Pritha, which does not fully know what ought to be done and what not, what should be feared and what not, is of the passion-born rajas quality. That discriminating power which is enveloped in obscurity, mistaking wrong for right and all things contrary to their true intent and meaning, is of the dark quality of tamas.

“That power of steadfastness holding the man together, which by devotion controls every motion of the mind, the breath, the senses and the organs, partaketh of thesattva quality. And that which cherisheth duty, pleasure, and wealth, in him who looketh to the fruits of action is of the quality of rajas. But that through which the man of low ca-
* This is Buddhi, the highest intellection, the power of judgment.


pacity stays fast in drowsiness, fear, greed, vanity and rashness is from the tamas quality, O son of Pritha.

“Now hear what are the three kinds of pleasure wherein happiness comes from habitude and pain is ended. That which in the beginning is as poison and in the end as the water of life, and which arises from a purified understanding, is declared to be of the sattva quality. That arising from the connection of the senses with their objects which in the beginning is sweet as the waters of life but at the end like poison, is of the quality of rajas. That pleasure is of the dark tamas quality which both in the beginning and the end arising from sleep, idleness, and carelessness, tendeth both in the beginning and the end to stupify the soul. There is no creature on earth nor among the hosts in heaven who is free from these three qualities which arise from nature.

“The respective duties of the four castes, of Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sûdras, are also determined by the qualities which predominated in the disposition of each, O harasser of thy foes. The natural duty of a Brahman compriseth tranquility, purity,


self-mastery, patience, rectitude, learning, spiritual discernment, and belief in the existence of another world. Those of the Kshatriya sprung from his nature, are valor, glory, strength, firmness, not to flee from the field of battle, liberality and a lordly character. The natural duties of the Vaisya are to till the land, tend cattle and to buy and sell; and that of the Sûdra is to serve, as is his natural disposition.

“Men being contented and devoted to their own proper duties attain perfection; hear now how that perfection is attained by devotion to natural duty.

“If a man maketh offering to the Supreme Being who is the source of the works of all and by whom this universe was spread abroad, he thus obtaineth perfection. The performance of the duties of a man’s own particular calling, although devoid of excellence, is better than doing the duty of another, however well performed; and he who fulfills the duties obligated by nature, does not incur sin. A man’s own natural duty, even though stained with faults, ought not to be abandoned. For all human acts are involved in faults, as the


fire is wrapped in smoke. The highest perfection of freedom from action is attained through renunciation by him who in all works has an unfettered mind and subdued heart.

“Learn from me, in brief, in what manner the man who has reached perfection attains to the Supreme Spirit, which is the end, the aim, and highest condition of spiritual knowledge.

“Embued with pure discrimination, restraining himself with resolution, having rejected the charms of sound and other objects of the senses, and casting off attachment and dislike; dwelling in secluded places, eating little, with speech, body, and mind controlled, engaging in constant meditation and unwaveringly fixed in dispassion; abandoning egotism, arrogance, violence, vanity, desire, anger, pride, and possession, with calmness ever present, a man is fitted to be the Supreme Being. And having thus attained to the Supreme, he is serene, sorrowing no more, and no more desiring, but alike towards all creatures he attains to supreme devotion to me. By this devotion to me he knoweth funda-


mentally who and what I am and having thus discovered me he enters into me without any intermediate condition. And even the man who is always engaged in action shall attain by my favor to the eternal and incorruptible imperishable abode, if he puts his trust in me alone. With thy heart place all thy works on me, prefer me to all else, exercise mental devotion continually, and think constantly of me. By so doing thou shalt by my divine favor surmount every difficulty which surroundeth thee; but if from pride thou wilt not listen to my words, thou shalt undoubtedly be lost. And if, indulging self-confidence, thou sayest ‘I will not fight,’ such a determination will prove itself vain, for the principles of thy nature will impel thee to engage. Being bound by all past karma to thy natural duties, thou, O son of Kuntî, wilt involuntarily do from necessity that which in thy folly thou wouldst not do. There dwelleth in the heart of every creature, O Arjuna, the Master―Ishwara ―who by his magic power causeth all things and creatures to revolve mounted upon the universal wheel of time. Take sanctuary with him alone, O son of Bharata, with all


thy soul; by his grace thou shalt obtain supreme happiness, the eternal place.

“Thus have I made known unto thee this knowledge which is a mystery more secret than secrecy itself; ponder it fully in thy mind; act as seemeth best unto thee.

“But further listen to my supreme and most mysterious words which I will now for thy good reveal unto thee because thou art dearly beloved of me. Place thy heart upon me as I have declared myself to be, serve me, offer unto me alone, and bow down before me alone, and thou shalt come to me; I swear it, for thou art dear to me. Forsake every other religion and take refuge alone with me; grieve not, for I shall deliver thee from all transgressions. Thou must never reveal this to one who doth not practice mortification, who is without devotion, who careth not to hear it, nor unto him who despiseth me. He who expoundeth this supreme mystery to my worshippers shall come to me if he performs the highest worship of me; and there shall not be among men anyone who will better serve me than he, and he shall be dearest unto me of all on earth. If anyone shall study these sacred


dialogues held between us two, I shall consider that I am worshipped by him with the sacrifice of knowledge; this is my resolve. And even the man who shall listen to it with faith and not reviling shall, being freed from evil, attain to the regions of happiness provided for those whose deeds are righteous.

Hast thou heard all this, O son of Pritha, with mind one-pointed? Has the delusion of thought which arose from ignorance been removed, O Dhananjaya?”

“By thy divine power, O thou who fallest not,* my delusion is destroyed, I am collected once more; I am free from doubt, firm, and will act according to thy bidding.”

Thus have I been an ear-witness of the miraculous astonishing dialogue, never heard before, between Vasudeva and the magnanimous son of Pritha. By the favor of Vyasa I heard this supreme mystery of Yoga – devotion – even as revealed from the mouth of
* The word is “Achyuta.


Krishna himself who is the supreme Master of devotion. And as I again and again remember, O mighty king, this wonderful sacred dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, I am delighted again and again. Also, as I recall to my memory the wonderful form of Hari, * the Lord, my astonishment is great, O king, and I rejoice again and again. Where-ever Krishna, the supreme Master of devotion, and wherever the son of Pritha, the mighty archer, may be, there with certainty are fortune, victory, wealth, and wise action; this is my belief.

Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gîtâ, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the Eighteenth Chapter, by name―


* One of the names of Vishnu, and also applied to Krishna.




             Some notes on this Glossary:

 Spelling is arbitrary, as written and spoken Sanskrit, con­sisting of phonetic symbols, uses sounds that cannot easily be reproduced by combinations of English letter-sounds.

The older and more commonly used written versions are given, so students can more easily identify them and their meanings, and grasp phil­osophical points of view.  This may disagree with some of the current Sanskrit and Orientalist “authorities,” who generally focus on a literal translation, employing the methods of the “head doctrine, perceived by the eye,”  or the “Lower Manas.”

The “Heart Doctrine” is that which the Original Authors desired to offer for study by aspirants to Wisdom.  It is, often, a “meaning concealed within a meaning.”

An attempt has been made here to indicate some of the inner meanings employed by those Primeval Sages.  The literal translation is usually unable to give much depth;  as a consequence, vast arguments can arise.

Much of the “original” written Hindu Literature we study was abridged around the time of the Mogul Emperor Akbar (1562-1605), and at that time those portions taken out were encoded within the abridged material left.  [ see “Hindu Literature” here below. ]  Within the Apara (exoteric) Vidya, the never recorded Para (esoteric) Vidya is concealed.  [S D I xxiii ]

Some words are employed with meanings that vary according to context, as underlying all Hindu sacred texts, implications that concern mental and emotional states of consciousness will be found.

The accepted fact that each human being is an immortal Spirit/Soul-mind leads to consideration of many levels of psychic and Spiritual perception.  The inner Immortal is the “One Con­sciousness” which pierces through all the states and planes of a being’s nature, and serves to uphold the memory of experiences in those states.

An understanding of these may be obtained by con­trolling the “modifications” of the “Lower Mind”–Kama-Manas–the brain-mind of the Personality, says Patanjali [see Book I].  Such a knowledge is said to be obtainable in full, when the devotee can use at will, a knowledge of the 7 x 7 scale of cause and effect:  the “49 fires” that “burn” within him and illuminate his life.

Man’s “principles” are tabulated in the SECRET DOCTRINE [S D  I  157-8], and these correlate to the Universal Principles (S D  II  596]

The Bhagavad Gita is designed by Krishna to evoke the “memo­ry of past lives” in those who read and inquire of it for the secrets of Nature and of man’s constitution that are enshrined there for them.  It is called “the study of Adepts.”

In this regard, Krishna [or the Universal SPIRITUAL SELF] is considered in every human as the “Higher Self” or the “Divine Man.”  He is Immortal, present in every Man, as well as in every being in Nature. All manifested forms are considered evidence of the many vehicles of intelligence, which, immortal and continuous, are used by the innumerable ‘rays’ of the “One Consciousness,” to develop in them, over an enormous amount of time, so as to encompass the whole range of possible experience, and thus, to rise, as Individuals, to the perceptive level and to the ‘will’ of the One Universal BEING.

The Higher Self is invoked by sincere and conscientious dis­ciples who:

1.  recognize that they, and all other beings are in essence “brothers“ and fellow immortals.

2.  That living in a physical form is for all, a common pilgrimage.

3.  That brotherhood, virtue, uni­versal ethics and morality are to be rigorously applied in life.  This makes of Karma an ally.

4.  The goal of Supreme Knowledge is attainable by all beings. No exceptions.

5.  The “life-atom” is a potential Man and is informed by an im­mortal Monad (Atma-Buddhi), a “god.”

6.  Any selfish or evil feelings, acts or thoughts, are Karmic impediments to the pro­gress of aspirants towards Spiritual knowledge. We dare not inflict these delays on others.

7.  The disciple should center his attention on moral refinement, self-control, Self-knowledge and service to all within his area of living,




Annie Besant


Adyar, Madras,   India • Wheaton,  Illinois, USA

First Edition 1892

Second Edition 1897

Third and Revised Edition 1898

Fourth and Revised Edition 1905


FEW words are needed in sending this little book out into the world. It is the second of a series of Manuals designed to meet the public demand for a simple exposition of Theosophical teachings. Some have complained that our literature is at once too abstruse, too technical, and too expensive for the ordinary reader, and it is our hope that the present series may succeed in supplying what is a very real want. Theosophy is not only for the learned; it is for all. Perhaps among those who in these little books catch their first glimpse of its teachings,, there may be a few who will be led by them to penetrate more deeply into its philosophy, its science, and its religion, facing its abstruser problems with the student’s zeal and the neophyte’s ardour. But these Manuals are not written for the eager student, whom no initial difficulties can daunt; they are written for the busy men and women of the work-a-day world, and seek to make plain some of the great truths that render life easier to bear and death easier to face. Written by servants of the Masters who are the Elder Brothers of our race, they can have no other object than to serve our fellow-men.


Introduction 1
The Meaning of Reincarnation 8
What it is that Reincarnates 11
What it is that does not Reincarnate 21
The Method of Reincarnation 28
The Object of Reincarnation 45
The Cause of Reincarnation 52
The Proofs of Reincarnation 68
Objections to Reincarnation 89
A Last Word 94


IF it be difficult for a new truth to gain a hearing amid the strife of tongues that marks our modern civilisation it is yet more difficult for a truth to make itself heard which has become new only by force of age. If our eye could sweep over the intellectual history of the race, unrolled before us for centuries of millenniums, then a gap in the dominance of some world-wide idea, stretching over some few hundreds of years among a small number of the nations, would but slightly impress us. But when that gap—a mere partial fissure in an immemorial past—includes the intellectual development of Europe, and is scanned by Europeans, it assumes an importance quite out of proportion to its relative extent in time, its relative weight in argument. Great and valuable as is the contribution brought by Europe to the mental treasurehouse of mankind, we Europeans are very apt to overestimate it, and to forget that


the very brief period of intellectual achievement in Europe cannot rationally be taken as outweighing the total mental fruitage of the non-European races, gathered over thousands of centuries. This looming large of our own recent past, until, as a plate held before our eyes shuts out the sun, it hides the past of the world from our mental gaze, is a danger against which we should be on our guard. The wise listen most readily to those whose habits of thoughts are most alien from their own, knowing that thus they may chance to catch a glimpse of some new aspect of truth, instead of seeing once more the mere reflection of the aspect already familiar. Men’s racial habits, traditions, surroundings, are as coloured glasses through which they look at the sun of Truth; each glass lends its own tint to the sunbeam, and the white ray is transmitted as red, or blue, or yellow—what you will. As we cannot get rid of our glass and catch the pure uncoloured radiance, we do wisely to combine the coloured rays and so obtain the white.

Now Reincarnation is a truth that has swayed the minds of innumerable millions of our race, and has moulded the thoughts of the vast majority for uncounted centuries. It dropped out of the


European mind during the Dark Ages, and so ceased to influence our mental and moral development—very much, be it said in passing, to the injury of that development. For the last hundred years it has from time to time flashed through the minds of some of the greater Westerns, as a possible explanation of some of life’s most puzzling problems: and during recent years, since its clear enunciation as an essential part of the Esoteric Teaching, it has been constantly debated, and is as constantly gaining ground, among the more thoughtful students of the mysteries of life and of evolution.

There is, of course, no doubt that the great historical religions of the East included the teaching of Reincarnation as a fundamental tenet. In India, as in Egypt, Reincarnation was at the root of ethics. Among the Jews it was held commonly by the Pharisees,1 and the popular belief comes out in. various phrases in the New Testament, as when John the Baptist is regarded as a reincarnation of Elijah or as when the disciples ask whether the man born blind is suffering for the sin of his parents or for

1Josephus, Antig., xviii. i., § 3, says the virtuous “shall have power to revive and live again.”


some former sin of his own. The Zohar, again, speaks of souls as being subjected to transmigration. “All souls are subject to revolution (metempsychosis, a’leen b’gilgoolah), but men do not know the ways of the Holy One; blessed be it! they are ignorant of the way they have been judged in all time, and “before they came into this world and when they have quitted it.”1 The Kether Malkuth evidently has the same idea as that conveyed by Josephus, when it says: ” If she (the soul) be pure, then shall she obtain favour and rejoice in the latter day; but if she hath been denied, then shall she wander for a time in pain and despair,” 2 So also, we find the doctrine taught by eminent Fathers of the Church, and Ruffinus 3 states that belief in it was common among the primitive Fathers. Needless to say that the philosophic Gnostics and Neo-Platonists held it as an integral part of their doctrine. If we glance to the Western Hemisphere we meet Reincarnation as a firmly rooted belief among many of the tribes of North and South America. The Mayas, with

1 Zohar, ii., fol. 99, b. sq. Quoted in Myer’s Qabbalah, p. 198. 2 Quoted in Myer’s Qabbalah, p. 198.

3 Letter to Anastasius, quoted by E. D. Walker, in Reincarnation : A Study of Forgotten Truth.


their deeply interesting connection in language and symbolism with ancient Egypt, held the traditional doctrine, as has been shown by the investigations of Dr. and Mme. le Plongeon. To these, the name of many another tribe might be added, remnants of once famous nations, that in their decay have preserved the ancestral beliefs that once linked them with the mightiest peoples of the elder world.

It could scarcely be expected that a teaching of such vast antiquity and such magnificent intellectual ancestry should fade out of the mind of mankind; and accordingly we find that the eclipse it suffered a few centuries ago was very partial, affecting only a small portion of the race. The ignorance that swamped Europe carried away belief in Reincarnation, as it carried away all philosophy, all metaphysics, and all science. Mediaeval Europe did not offer the soil on which could flourish any wide-sweeping and philosophical view of man’s nature and destiny. But in the East, which enjoyed a refined and gracious civilisation while Europe was sunk in barbarism; which had its philosophers and its poets while the West was densely illiterate; in the East, the great doctrine held undisputed sway, whether in the subtle metaphysics of the Brahmans,


or in the noble morality which finds its home under the shadow of the Buddha and His Good Law.

But while a fact of Nature may in some part of the world for a time be ignored it cannot be destroyed, and, submerged for a moment, it will again reassert itself in the sight of men. This has been demonstrated anew in the history of the doctrine of Reincarnation in Europe, in its occasional reappearances, traceable from the founding of Christendom to the present time, in its growing acceptance today.

When Christianity first swept over Europe, the inner thought of its leaders was deeply tinctured with this truth. The Church tried ineffectually to eradicate it, and in various sects it kept sprouting forth beyond the time of Erigena and Benaventura, its mediaeval advocates. Every great intuitional soul, as Paracelsus, Boehme and Swedenborg, has adhered to it. The Italian luminaries, Giordano Bruno and Campanella, embraced it. The best of German philosophy is enriched by it. In Schopenhauer, Lessing, Hegel, Leibnitz, Herder, and Fichte the younger, it is earnestly advocated. The anthropological systems of Kant and Schelling furnish points of contact with it. The younger Helmont, in De Revolutions Animarum, adduces in two hundred problems all the arguments which may be urged in favour of the return of souls into human bodies, according to Jewish ideas. Of English thinkers, the Cambridge Platonists defended it with much learning and acuteness, most conspicuously Henry More; and in Cudworth and Hume, it ranks as the most rational theory of immortality. Glanvil’s Lux Orientalis devotes a curious treatise to it. It captivated the minds of Fourier and Leroux. Andre Pezzani’s book on The Plurality of the Soul’s Lines works out the system on the Roman Catholic idea of expiation.1

1 E. D. Walker, of. cit., pp. 65, 66.


The reader of Schopenhauer will be familiar with the aspect taken by Reincarnation in his philosophy. Penetrated as was the great German with Eastern thought from his study of the Upanishads, it would have been passing strange had this corner-stone of Hindu philosophy found no place in his system. Nor is Schopenhauer the only philosopher from the Intellectual and mystical German people who has accepted Reincarnation as a necessary factor in Nature. The opinions of Fichte, of Herder, of Lessing, may surely claim to be of some weight in the intellectual world, and these men see in Reincarnation a solution for problems otherwise insoluble. It is true that the intellectual world is not a despotic State, and none may impose his opinion on his fellows by personal authority; none the less are opinions weighed there rather than counted, and the mightier and more instructed intellects of the West, though they be here in a small minority, will command respectful hearing for that which they deliberately advance, from all whose minds are not so hide-bound by modern tradition as to be unable to appreciate the value of arguments addressed to the support of an unfashionable truth.


It is interesting to note that the mere idea of Reincarnation is no longer regarded in the West— at least by educated people—as absurd. It is-gradually assuming the position of a possible hypothesis, to be considered on its merits, on its power of explaining puzzling and apparently unrelated phenomena. Regarding it myself as, to me, a proven fact, I am concerned rather to put it forward on these pages as a probable hypothesis, throwing more light than does any other theory on the obscure problems of man’s constitution, of his character, his evolution, and his destiny. Reincarnation and Karma are said by a Master to be the two doctrines of which the West stands most in. need; so it cannot he ill done for a believer in the Masters to set forth an outline, for the ordinary reader, of this central teaching of the Esoteric Philosophy.


Let us start with a clear understanding of what is meant by Reincarnation. So far as the derivation of the word is concerned, any repeated entering into a physical, or fleshly covering, might be included

THE MEANING OF REINCARNATION                     9

thereunder. It certainly implies the existence of something relatively permanent that enters into and inhabits successive somethings relatively impermanent. But the word tells us nothing of the nature of these relatively permanent and impermanent somethings, save that the impermanent habitations are of ” flesh “. Another word, often used as synonymous with Reincarnation, the word Metempsychosis, suggests the other side of the transaction; here the habitation is ignored, and the stress is laid on the transit of the Psyche, the relatively permanent. Putting the two together as descriptive of the whole idea, we should have the entry of a Psyche or ” soul” into successive ” bodies ” of flesh; and though the word ” soul ” is open to serious objections, from its looseness and its theological connotations, it may stand for the moment as representing in the minds of most people a form of existence which outlasts the physical frame with which it was connected during a life on earth.

In this general sense, apart from any special exoteric or esoteric teaching, Reincarnation and Metempsychosis are words which denote a theory of existence, according to which a form of visible


matter is inhabited by a more ethereal principle, which outlives its physical encasement, and, on the death of the latter, passes on, immediately or after an interval, to dwell in some other frame. Never, perhaps, has this doctrine, in its loftiest form, been put more clearly or more beautifully than in the famous encouragement of Arjuna by Krishna, given in the Bhagavad-Gita:

These bodies of the embodied One, who is eternal, indestructible and boundless, are known as finite. . . He who regardeth this as a slayer, and he who thinketh he is slain, both of them are ignorant. He slayeth not nor is he slain. He is not born, nor doth he die; nor having been, ceaseth he any more to be; unborn, perpetual, eternal and ancient, he is not slain when the body is slaughtered. Who knoweth him indestructible, unborn, undiminishing, how can that man slay, O Partha, or cause to be slain ? As a man, casting off worn-out garments, taketh new ones, so the dweller in the body, casting off worn-out bodies, entereth into others that are new. Weapons cleave him not, nor fire burneth him, nor waters wet him, nor wind drieth him away. Indivisible he, incombustible he, and indeed neither to be wetted nor dried away; perpetual, all-pervasive, stable, immovable, an-cient, unmanifest, unthinkable, immutable, he is called; therefore knowing him as such thou shouldst not grieve.1

The theory of Reincarnation, then, in the Esoteric Philosophy, asserts the existence of a living and individualised Principle, which dwells in and informs the body of a man, and Which, on the death of the body, passes into another body, after a longer or

1 From the translation by Annie Besant, Discourse ii, 18-25.


shorter interval. Thus successive bodily lives are linked together like pearls strung upon a thread, the thread being the living Principle, the pearls upon it the separate human lives.


Having grasped the idea that Reincarnation is the indwelling of a living something in a succession of human bodies, we naturally make the inquiry: What is this living something, this persistent reincarnating Principle ? As our understanding of the whole teaching hinges on thorough understanding of the answer to this question, it will not be wasted time to dwell a little on the circumstances which led up to and surrounded the first incarnation of this living Principle in the human form. To make this incarnation thoroughly intelligible, we must trace the steps of the evolution of man.

Those who have read the first of these Manuals will remember that the Monad or Atma-Euddhi is described as the ” mainspring of all evolution, the impelling force at the root of all things.” 1 Those to whom the technical name is unfamiliar will

1 P. 63.


seize the idea conveyed by the name to the Theo-sophist, if they will think of the Universal Life, the Root of all that is, gradually evolving as its own manifestation the various forms which make up our world. We cannot here retrace our earth’s story in former stages of its aeonian evolution: that will, I hope, be done in one of this series of Manuals. But here we must be content to pick up the thread at the beginning of the present stage, when the germ of what was to become man had appeared, as the result of previous evolution, on this, our globe. H. P. Blavatsky, in the volumes of The Secret Doctrine, has drawn the evolution in detail, and to that work I must refer the earnest and thorough student. Let it suffice to say that the physical form of what was to be man was slowly and very gradually evolved, two great Root-Races passing through their full development, and a third Root-Race having run half its course, before humanity had reached completion so far as its physical, or animal, nature was concerned. This nature, rightly called animal, because it contains that which man has in common with the brute— a dense physical body, its etheric double, its vitality, its passions, appetites and desires—this nature was


built up by terrestrial and other cosmic forces through millions of years. It was brooded over, enveloped in, permeated by, that Universal Life which is ” the Force back of Evolution “, that life which men have in all ages called Divine.

An Occult Commentary, quoted in The Secret Doctrine? speaking of this stage of evolution, mentions the forms, technically called ” astral doubles”, which had evolved into the physical bodies of men, and thus describes the situation at the point we have reached:

Rupa (Form) has become the vehicle of Monads (Seventh and Sixth Principles) that had completed their cycle of transmigration in the three preceding Kalpas (Rounds). Then they (the astral doubles) become the men of the first Human Race of the Round. But they were not complete, and were senseless.

Here were, we may say, the two poles of the evolving Life-manifestation: the Animal with all its potentialities on the lower plane, but necessarily mindless, conscienceless, errant aimlessly over the earth, unconsciously tending onwards by reason of the impelling force within it that drove it ever forward: this force, the Divine, itself too lofty in

1 Vol. i, 235, 1962 Edition.


its pure ethereal nature to reach consciousness on the lower planes, and so unable to bridge the gulf that stretched between it and the animal brain it vivified but could not illumine. Such was the organism that was to become man, a creature of marvellous potentialities, an instrument with strings all ready to break into music; where was the power that should make the potentialities actual, where the touch that should waken the melody and send it forth thrilling into space?

When the hour had struck, the answer came from the mental or manasic plane. Whilst this double evolution above described, the monadic and the physical, had been going on upon our globe, a third line of evolution, which was to find its goal in man, had been proceeding in a higher sphere. This line was that of intellectual evolution, and the subjects of the evolution are the lower of the Sons of Mind (Manasaputra), self-conscious intelligent entities, as is implied by their name. The Manasa-putras are spoken of under many different names: Lords of Light, Dhyan Chohans, Kumaras, Dragons of Wisdom, Solar Pitris, etc., etc., allegorical and poetical names, that become attractive and familiar to the student in the course of his reading, but


which cause much trouble and confusion to the beginner, who cannot make out whether he is dealing with one class of beings or with a dozen. As a matter of fact the name covers many grades. But the one thing that the beginner needs to grasp is that, at a certain stage of evolution, there entered into, incarnated in men. certain self-conscious intelligent entities, with a long past of intellectual evolution behind them, who found in physical man the instrument ready, and fitted, for their further evolution.

The coming of these Sons of Mind is given in poetical phrase in the Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan:1

The Sons of Wisdom, The Sons of Night, ready for rebirth, came down. . . . The Third Race were ready. ” In these shall we dwell,” said the Lords of the Flame. …. The Third Race became the Vahan (Vehicle] of the Lords of Wisdom.

These Lords of Wisdom incarnated as teachers, and became the fathers of the reincarnating Egos of men, while Solar Pitris of a lower grade became themselves the reincarnating Egos of the leading races; these are the Mind, or rather Minds, in

1 The Secret Doctrine iii, 168, 179, 1962 Ed.



men, the Manas, or Fifth Principle, sometimes described as the Human or Rational Soul. I prefer to speak of the reincarnating Ego as the Thinker, rather than as Mind, in man; for the word Thinker suggests an individual entity, whereas the word Mind suggests a vague generality.

It is interesting and significant that the word man, running through so many languages, is related back to this Manas, to its root man, to think. Skeat 1 gives the word in English, Swedish, Danish, German, Icelandish, Gothic, Latin (mas, for mans), deriving it from the Sanskrit root man, and therefore defining man as a ” thinking animal”. So that whenever we say Man, we say Thinker, and are carried back to that period at which the Thinkers ” came down “, i.e., became incarnate in the physical vehicle built for their reception, when the senseless animal became the thinking being, by virtue of the Manas that entered into him andr dwelt in him. It was then that the Man became clothed in his ” coat of skin”, after his fall into physical matter in order that he might eat of the Tree of Knowledge and thus become a ” God.”

1 Etymological Dictionary, under ” Man “.


This man is the link between the Divine and the Animal, that we have viewed as essentially connected and yet held apart from close intercommunion. He stretches one hand upwards towards the Divine Monad, to the Spirit whose offspring he is, striving upwards, that he may assimilate that loftier nature, that his intelligence may become spiritual, his knowledge wisdom; he lays his other hand upon the Animal, which is to bear him to conquest of the lower planes, that he may train and subdue it to his own ends, and make it a perfect instrument for manifestation of the higher life. Long is the task that lies before him; no less than to raise the Animal to the Divine, to Sublime Matter into Spirit, to lead up the ascending arc the life that has traversed the descending, and has now to climb upwards, bearing with it all the fruits of its long exile from its true home. Finally he is to reunite the separated aspects of the One, to bring the Spirit to self-consciousness on all planes, Matter to be its perfect manifestation. Such his sublime task for the accomplishment of which reincarnation is to be his tool.

This Man, then, is our real Human Self, and we err when we think of our body as ” I”, and too


much exalt our temporary ” coat of skin “. It is as though a man should regard his coat as himself, himself as a mere appendage of his clothes. As our clothes exist for us and not we for them, and they are only things rendered necessary by climate, comfort and custom, so our bodies are only necessary to us because of the conditions that surround us, and are for our service, not for our subjugation. Some Indians will never speak of bodily wants as theirs: they say, ” My body is hungry,” ” My body is tired,” not ” I am hungry,” or ” I am tired.” And though in our ears the phrase may sound fantastic, it is truer to facts than our self-identification with our body. If we were in the habit of identifying ourselves in thought, not with the habitation we live in but with the Human Self, that dwells therein, life would become a greater and a serener thing. We should brush off troubles as we brush the dust from our garments, and we should realise that the measure of all things happening to us is not the pain or pleasure they bring to our bodies, but the progress or retardation they bring to the Man within us; and since all things are matters of experience and lessons may be learned from each, we should take the sting out of griefs


by searching in each for the wisdom enwrapped in it as the petals are folded within the bud. In the light of reincarnation life changes its aspect, for it becomes the school of the eternal Man within us, who seeks therein his development, the Man that was and is and shall be, for whom the hour will never strike.

Let the beginner, then, get firm grip of the idea that the Thinker is the Man, the Individual, the reincarnating Ego, and that this Ego seeks to become united to the divine Monad, while training and purifying the animal self to which it is joined during earth-life. United to that divine Monad, a spark of the Universal Life and inseparable from it, the Thinker becomes the Spiritual Ego, the Divine Man.1 The Thinker is spoken of sometimes as the vehicle of the Monad, the ethereal encasement, as it were, through which the Monad may act on all planes; hence, we often find theosophical writers saying that the Triad, or Trinity, in Man, is that which reincarnates, and the expression, though loose, may pass, if the student remembers that the Monad is Universal, not particular, and that it is only our ignorance which deludes us into

1 The Seven Principles of Man, by Annie Besant, p. 60.


separating ourselves from our brothers, arid seeing any difference between the Light in one and the Light in another.1 The Monad being Universal and not differing in different persons or individuals, it is really only the Thinker that can in strictness, be said to reincarnate, and it is with this Thinker, as the Individual, that we are concerned.

Now in this Thinker reside all the powers that we class as Mind. In it are memory, intuition, will. It gathers up all the experiences of the earth-lives through which it passes, and stores these accumulated treasures of knowledge, to be transmuted within itself, by its own divine alchemy, into that essence of experience arid knowledge which is Wisdom. Even in our brief span of earth-life we distinguish between the knowledge we acquire and the wisdom we gradually—alas! too rarely—distil from that knowledge. Wisdom is. the fruitage of a life’s experience, the crowning possession of the aged. Arid in a much fuller and richer sense, Wisdom is the fruitage of many incarnations, in which knowledge has been gained,.

1 Ibid., p. 68. The relation between the three Higher Principles, is clearly explained in this little book, which appeared originally in Lucifer as a series of articles, and is supposed to have been, studied by the readers of the present manual.


experience garnered, patience has had her perfect work, so that at length the divine Man is the glorious product of the centuries evolution. In the Thinker, then, is our store of experiences, reaped in all past lives, harvested through many rebirths, a heritage into which each one shall surely come when he learn to rise above the thrall of the senses, out of the storm and stress of earthly life, to that purer region, to that higher plane, where our true Self resides.


We have seen in the preceding Section, that man’s outer “form, his physical nature, was built up slowly, through two and a half Races, until it was ready to receive the Son of Mind.1 This is the nature we have called animal, and it consists of four distinguishable parts or ” principles “; I. the body; II. the etheric double; III. the vitality; IV. the passional nature—passions, appetites and desires. This is, in very truth, the animal man, differing from its relatives which are purely animal by the influence exerted over it by the Thinker, who has

1 See ante, pp. 11, 12.


come to train and ennoble it. Take away the Thinker, as in the case of the congenital idiot, and you have an animal merely, albeit its form be human.

Now the Thinker, connected with and informing the animal-man, imparts to this lower nature such of its own capacities as that animal-man is able to manifest, and these capacities, working in and through the human brain, are recognised by us as the brain-mind, or the lower mind. In the West the development of this brain-mind is regarded as marking the distinction, in ordinary parlance, between the brute and the human being. That which the Theosophist looks on as merely the lower or brain-mind, is considered by the average Western to be the mind itself, and hence arises much confusion when the Theosophist and the non-Theosophist foregather. We say that the Thinker, striving to reach and influence the animal-man, sends out a Ray that plays on and in the brain, and that through the brain are manifested so much of the mental powers as that brain, by its configuration and other physical qualities, is able to translate. This Ray sets the molecules of the brain nerve-cells vibrating, as a ray of light sets quivering the molecules of the


retinal nerve cells and so gives rise to consciousness on the physical plane. Reason, judgment,, memory, will, ideation—as these faculties are known to us, manifested when the brain is in full activity— all these are the outcome of the Ray sent forth by the Thinker, modified by the material conditions through which it must work. These conditions include healthy nerve-cells, properly balanced development of the respective groups of nerve cells, a full supply of blood containing nutritive matter that can be assimilated by the cells so as to supplant waste, and carrying oxygen easily set

free from its vehicles. If these conditions, or any of them, are absent, the brain cannot function, and thought processes can no more be carried out through such a brain than a melody can be produced from an organ the bellows of which is broken. The brain no more produces the thought than the organ produces the melody; in both cases there is a player working through the instrument. But the power of the player to manifest himself, in thought or in melody, is limited by the capacities of the instrument.

It is absolutely necessary that the student should clearly   appreciate   this   difference   between   the


Thinker and the animal-man whose brain is played on by the Thinker, for any confusion between the two will render unintelligible the doctrine of reincarnation. For while the Thinker reincarnates, the animal-man does not.

Here is really the difficulty which leads to so many other difficulties. The animal-man is born, .and the true Man is linked to him; through the brain of the animal-man the true Man works, Incarnation after incarnation, and remains one. It informs in turn the animal-men Sashital Dev, Caius Glabrio, Johanna Wirther, William Johnson —let us say—and in each reaps experience, through each gathers knowledge, from each takes the material it supplies, and weaves it into its own eternal Being. The animal-man wins his immortality by union with his true self; Sashital Dev does not reincarnate as Gaius Glabrio, and then as Johanna Wirther, blossoming out as William Johnson in nineteenth century England, but it is the one eternal Son of Mind that dwells in each of these in turn, gathering up from each such indwelling new experience, fresh knowledge. It is this reincarnating Ego alone that can look back along the line of its rebirths, remember each earthly


life, the story of each pilgrimage from cradle to grave, the whole drama unrolled act by act, century after century. Taking my imaginary actors, William Johnson in the nineteenth century cannot look back on, nor remember, his rebirths, for he has never been born before, nor have his eyes seen the light of an earlier day. But the innate character of William Johnson, the character with which he came into the world, is the character wrought and hammered out by Johanna Wirther in Germany, Gaius Glabrio in Rome, Sashital Dev in Hindustan, and by many another of his earthly predecessors in many lands and under many civilisations; he is adding new touches to this work of the ages by his daily life, so that it will pass from his hands different from what it was, baser or nobler, into the hands of his heir and successor on the life-stage, who is thus, in a very real but not external sense, himself.

Thus the question which arises so naturally in the mind and which is so often asked: “Why do I not remember my past lives ? ” is really based on a misconception of the theory of reincarnation. ” I”, the true “I”, does remember; but the animal-man, not yet in full responsive union with


his true Selfs cannot remember a past in which he, personally, had no share. Brain-memory can contain only a record of the events in which the brain has been concerned, and the brain of the present William Johnson is not the brain of Johanna Wirther, nor that of Gaius Glabrio, nor that of Sashital Dev. William Johnson can only obtain memory of the past lives linked with his, by his brain becoming able to vibrate in answer to the subtle delicate vibrations sent down to it through that Ray which is the bridge between his transient personal self and his eternal SELF. To do this he must be closely united to that real Self, and must be living in the consciousness that he is not William Johnson but that Son of Mind, and that William Johnson is only the temporary house in which he is living for his own purposes. Instead of living in the brain-consciousness, he must live in the higher consciousness; instead of thinking of his true Self as without, as something outside, and of the transitory William Johnson as ” I”, he must identify himself with the Thinker, and look on William Johnson as the external organ, useful for work on the material plane, and to be educated and trained up to the highest point of efficiency,


that efficiency including the quick responsiveness of the William Johnson brain to its real owner.

As this difficult opening of the man of flesh to influences from the higher planes is gradually carried on, and as the true Self is increasingly able to affect its bodily habitation, glimpses of past incarnations will flash on the lower consciousness, and these will become less like flashes and more like permanent visions, until finally the past is recognised as ” mine ” by the continuous thread of memory that gives the feeling of individuality,. Then the present incarnation is recognised as being merely the last garment in which the Self has clothed itself, and it is in no wise identified with that Self, any more than a coat which a man puts on is regarded by him as being part of himself. A man does not regard his coat as part of himself, because he is consciously able to put it off and look at it separated from himself When the true man does that with his body, consciously on this plane, certainty becomes complete.

The coat then—the “coat of skin”, the etheric double, the vitality, the passional nature—does not reincarnate, but its elements disintegrate, and return to those to which they belong in the lower


worlds. All that was best in William Johnson passes on with the Ego into a period of blissful rest, until the impulse that carried it out of earth-life is exhausted, and it falls back to earth.


Having now gained a clear idea of the reincarnating Ego, or Thinker, and of the distinction between it and the transitory animal-man, the student must address himself to the understanding of the method of Reincarnation.

This method will be best appreciated by considering the plane to which the Thinker belongs, and the Force wherewith it works. The Thinker is what is called the Fifth Principle in man; and this Fifth Principle in the microcosm, man, answers to the Fifth Plane of the macrocosm, the universe outside man. These planes are differentiations of primary Substance, according to the Esoteric Philosophy, and consciousness works on each plane through the conditions, whatever they may be, of each plane. Substance is a word used to express Existence in its earliest objective form, the primary manifestation of the periodical aspect of the ONE,



the first film of the future  Kosmos,  in the dim beginnings of all manifested things.   This Substance has in it the potentiality of all, of most ethereal Spirit, of densest Matter.    The Esoteric Philosophy posits a primary Substance, out of which Kosmos is evolved, which at its rarest is Spirit, Energy, Force, and its densest the most solid Matter, every varying form in all worlds being of this Substance, aggregated into more or less dense masses, instinct with more or less Force.    A plane only means a stage of existence in which this Spirit-Matter varies within certain limits, and acts under certain “laws”. Thus the physical plane means our visible, audible, tangible, odorous, gustable world, in which we come into   contact with Spirit-Matter—Science calls it Force and Matter, as though separable—by way of the senses, whether it be as solid, liquid, gas, etc And so on with other planes, each being distinguishable by the characteristics of its Spirit-Matter. On each of these planes  consciousness shows itself,  working  through   the   Spirit-Matter of the plane.    One further fact must be added to this rough and very condensed statement, that these planes are  not,  as  has  been  said, like skins of an  onion,   one  over the  other, but, like the air


and the ether in our bodies, they interpenetrate each other.

Answering to these are seven principles, which bear relation by analogy to the seven planes in Kosmos. Of these the Thinker is the Fifth.

Now this fifth principle in man corresponds to the fifth plane in Kosmos, that of Mahat, the Universal Mind, Divine Ideation, from which proceeds directly the moulding, guiding, directing Force, which is the essence of all the differentiations that we call forces on the physical plane. [This plane is often called the third, because starting from Atma as the first, it is the third. It does not matter by what number it is called, if the student understands what it is in relation to the rest.] All the world of form, be the form subtle or dense, is evolved by and through this Force of the Universal Mind, aggregating and separating the atoms, integrating them into forms, disintegrating them again, building up and pulling down, constructing and destroying, attracting and repelling. One Force in the eye of the philosopher, many forces to the observation of the scientist, verily one in its. essence and manifold in its manifestations. Thus from the fifth plane come all the creation of forms,


using creation in the sense of moulding pre-existent material,, fashioning it into new forms. This Thought Force is, in the Esoteric Philosophy, the one source of form; it is spoken of by H. P. Blavatsky as

The mysterious power of thought which enables it to produce external, perceptible, phenomenal results by its own inherent energy.1

As in the fifth plane of Kosmos, so in the fifth principle of man; in the Thinker lies the Force by which all things are made and it is in this creative power of thought that we shall find the secret of the method of reincarnation.

Those who desire to prove to themselves that thought gives rise to images, to ” thought-forms “, so that in most literal truth ” a thought is a thing “, may find what they seek in the records now so widely scattered of so-called hypnotic experiments. The thought-form of an idea may be projected on a blank paper, and there become visible to a hypnotised person: or it may be made so objective that the hypnotised person will see and feel it as though it were an actual physical object. Again, a ” medium ” will see as a ” spirit ” a thought of a human being in the mind of a person present, this thought

1 Secret Doctrine, i, 333, 1962 Ed.


being imaged in his aura, the magnetic atmosphere that surrounds him. Or a clairvoyant, entranced or awake, will recognise and describe an image deliberately formed by a person present, no word being spoken, but the will being exercised to outline the image clearly in thought. All persons who ” visualise ” much are to some extent clairvoyant, and may prove to themselves by personal experiment this power to mould subtle matter by the will. The less subtle astral matter, again, may be thus moulded, as H. P. Blavatsky, at the Eddy farmhouse, moulded the projected astral image of the medium into likenesses of persons known to herself and unknown to the others present. Nor can this be considered strange when we remember how habits of thought mould even the dense matter of which our physical bodies are composed, until the character of the aged becomes stamped on the face, their beauty consisting not in form and colouring but in expression—expression which is the mask moulded on the inner self. Any habitual line of thought, vice or virtue, makes its impress on the physical features, and we do not need clairvoyant eyes to scan the aura to tell if the mental attitude be generous or grasping, trustful or suspicious,


loving or hating. This is a fact so common that it makes on us no impression, and yet it is significant enough; for if the dense matter of the body be thus moulded by the forces of thought, what is there incredible, or even strange, in the idea that the subtler forms of matter should be equally plastic, and should submissively take the shapes into which they are moulded by the deft fingers of the immortal Artist, thinking Man?

The position, then, that is here taken is that Manas, in its inherent nature, is a form-producing energy, and that the succession of events in the manifestation of an external object is: Manas puts forth a thought, and this thought takes form on the manasic or mind world; it passes out into the kama-manasic, there becoming denser; thence to the astral, where, being yet denser, it is visible to the eye of the clairvoyant; if directed consciously by a trained will it may pass at once to the physical plane and be there clothed in physical matter, thus becoming objective to ordinary eyes, whereas in ordinary cases it remains on the astral plane as a mould which will be built into objective life when circumstances occur which draw it thitherwards. A MASTER has written of the Adept being able


To project into and materialise in the visible world the forms that his imagination has constructed out of inert cosmic matter in the invisible world. The Adept does not create anything new, but only utilises and manipulates material which Nature has in store around him and material which throughout eternities has passed through all the forms. He has but to choose the one he wants and recall it into objective existence1

A reference to well-known facts on the physical plane may perhaps help the reader to realise how the invisible may thus become the visible; I have spoken of a form gradually densifying as it passes from the manasic to the kama-manasic world, from the latter to the astral, from the astral to the physical. Think of a glass receiver, apparently .empty, but in reality filled with the invisible gases, hydrogen and oxygen; a spark causes combination and. “water” exists there, but in a state of gas; the receiver is cooled, and gradually a steamy vapour becomes visible; then the vapour condenses on the glass as drops of water; then the water congeals and becomes a film of solid ice crystals. So when the manasic spark flashes out it combines subtle matter into a thought-form; this densifies

1 The Occult World, 5th ed., p. 88.


Into the kama-manasic form—our analogy is the steamy vapour; this into the astral—our analogy is the water; and so into the physical—for which the ice may stand. The student of the Esoteric Philosophy will know that in the evolution of Nature all proceeds in orderly sequence, and he will be accustomed to see in the substates of matter on the physical plane analogies to its states on the different planes of the ” invisible” worlds. But for the non-Theosophist, the illustration is offered only by way of giving a concrete physical picture of the densifying process, showing how the invisible may condense itself into the visible.

In truth, however, this process of condensation of rarer into grosser matter is one of the commonest facts of our experience. The vegetable world grows by taking in gases from the atmosphere, and transforming their materials into solids and liquids. The activity of the vital force shows itself by this constant building up of visible forms out of invisible; and whether the thought-process named be true or not, there is nothing in it inherently impossible or even extraordinary. Its truth is a matter of evidence, and here the evidence of those who can see the thought-forms on the different planes is surely


more valuable than the evidence of those who cannot. The word of a hundred blind men denying a visible object is of less weight than the word of one man who can see and who testifies to his seeing it. In this matter the Theosophist may be content to wait, knowing that facts do not alter for denials, and that the world will gradually come round to a knowledge of the existence of thought-forms, as it has already come round—after a similar period of scoffing—to a knowledge of the existence of some of the facts asserted by Mesmer at the close of the eighteenth century.

It has been iound, then, that events take their rise on the manasic or kama-manasic plane, in ideas, or as thought of passion or emotion, etc.; they then take astral form, and lastly appear objectively on the physical plane as acts or events, so that the latter are effects of pre-existing mental causes. Now the body is such an effect, according to the Esoteric Philosophy, and it is moulded on the etheric double, a term which will, by this time, be sufficiently familiar to my readers. The idea must be clearly grasped of a body of etheric matter, serving as a mould into which denser matter may be built, and if the method of reincarnation is to

THE METHOD OF REINCARNATION                     37

be at all understood, this conception of the dense body as the result of the building of dense molecules into a pre-existing etheric mould must, for the moment, be accepted.

And now let us return to the idea of the Thinker, creating forms, working certainly through the lower manas, or kama manas, in the average man, since of purely manasic activity we may not hope to find yet awhile many traces. In our daily life we think and thus create thought-forms:

Man is continually peopling his current in space with a world of his own, crowded with the offspring of his fancies, desires, impulses and passions.1

[The consideration of the effect of this on others belongs to the subject of Karma, to be hereafter dealt with.] These thought-forms remain in his aura, or magnetic atmosphere, and as time goes on their increased number acts on him with ever-gathering force, repetition of thoughts and of types of thought adding to their intensity day by day, with cumulative energy; until certain kinds of thought-forms so dominate his mental life that the man rather answers to their impulse than decides anew, and what we call a habit, the outer reflection of this.

1A MASTER in The Occult World, p. 90.


stored-up force, is set up. Thus “character” is built, and if we are intimately acquainted with any one of mature character, we are able to predicate with tolerable certainty his action in any given set of circumstances.

When the death hour comes the subtler bodies free themselves from the physical, the etheric double disintegrating gradually with the dense frame. The thought-body resulting from the past life persists for a considerable time and goes through various processes of consolidation of experiences, assimilation of much differentiated thoughts, and, handing on its results to the causal body, it in turn disintegrates. As the period for reincarnation approaches the causal body, or reincarnating Ego, builds a new mental and a new astral body, while the Lords of Karma provide a mould suited to express the Karma to be worked out, and after this the. etheric double is built. Since the brain, in common with the rest of the dense body, is built into this etheric double, this brain is by conformation, the physical expression, however imperfect, of the mental habits and qualities of the human being then to be incarnated, the fitting physical vehicle for the exercise of the capacities which his


experience  now enables him to manifest on the physical plane.

Let us, as an example, take the case of the practice of a vicious and of a virtuous type of thought, say of a selfish and of an unselfish character. One person continually gives birth to thought-forms of selfishness, desires for self, hopes for self, plans for self, and these forms clustering round him react again upon him, and he tends to become unscrupulous in his self-service, disregarding the claims of others, and seeking but his own ends. He dies, and his character has hardened into the selfish type. This persists, and in due course is given etheric form, as mould for the next dense body. Drawn towards a family of similar type, towards parents physically able to supply materials stamped with similar characteristics, the dense body is built into this etheric mould, and the brain takes the shape physically fitted for the manifestation of the brute tendencies to self-gratification, with a corresponding lack of the physical basis for the manifestation of the social virtues. In an extreme case of persistent and unscrupulous selfishness during one incarnation, we have the cause of the building of the ” criminal type of


brain ” for the succeeding one, and the child comes into the world with this instrument of miserable quality, from which the Immortal Thinker will be able to draw scarce a note of pure and tender melody, strive as he may. All the life through the Ray of Manas incarnated in this personality will be dimmed, broken, struggling through kamic clouds. Sometimes, despite all opposing circumstances, the glorious radiant quality will illumine and transform to some extent its physical vehicle, and with anguish and effort the lower nature will now and again be trampled under foot, and, however slowly, a painful step or two of progress will be achieved. But all the life through, the past will dominate the present, and the cup filled in forgotten days must be drained to the last drop by the quivering lips.

In the second supposed case, a person continually gives birth to thought-forms of unselfishness, helpful desires for others, loving plans for the welfare of others, earnest hopes for the good of others. These culster round him and react on him, and he tends to become habitually selfless, habitually placing the welfare of others before his own, and so, when he dies, his character has become


ingrainedly unselfish. Coming back to earth-life, . the model form which represents his previous characteristics is drawn to a family fitted to supply materials of a pure kind, habituated to respond to the promptings of the Higher Man. These, built • into the etheric mould, yield a brain physically fitted for the manifestation of the self-sacrificing tendencies, and a corresponding lack of the physical basis for the manifestation of the brute instincts. So here, in an extreme case of self-sacrificing habit through one incarnation, we have the cause of the building of the benevolent and philanthropic type of brain for the succeeding one, and the child comes into the world with this Instrument of splendid quality, which thrills beneath the lightest touch of the Immortal Thinker, breathing forth divine melodies of love and service, till the world wonders at the glory of a human life, at results that seem the mere outflow of the nature rather than the crown of effort deliberately made. But these royal natures that overflow in blessing are the outer symbol of long conflicts gallantly waged, of conflicts of a past unknown to the present, but known to the inner Conqueror, and one day to be known to the personality he informs.


Thus step by step is brought about the evolution of man, character being moulded in personality-after personality, gains and -losses rigidly recorded in astral and mental forms, and these governing the succeeding physical manifestations. Every virtue is thus the outer sign and symbol of a step forward made, of repeated victories won over the lower nature, and the “innate-quality”, the mental or moral characteristic with which a child is born, is the indubitable proof of past struggle, of past triumphs, or of past failures. A distasteful doctrine enough to the morally or mentally slothful and cowardly, but a most cheering and heartening teaching for those who do not ask to be pensioners on any charity, human or divine, but are content to earn patiently and laboriously all they claim to own.

Very nobly has Edward Carpenter put this truth in Towards Democracy, in the ” Secret of Time and Satan.”

The art of creation, like every other art, has to be learned;

Slowly, slowly, through many years, thou buildest up thy body,

And the power that thou now hast (such as it is) to build up this present body, thou hast acquired in the past in other bodies;

So in the future shalt thou use again the power that thou now acquirest.


But the power to build up the body includes all powers.

Beware how thou seekest this for thyself and that for thyself. I do not say, Seek not; but, Beware how thou seekest.

For a soldier who is going on a campaign does not seek what fresh furniture he can carry on his back, but rather what he may leave behind;

Knowing well that every additional thing which he cannot freely use and handle is an impediment to him.

So if thou seekest fame, or ease, or pleasure, or aught for thyself, the image of that thing which thou seekest will come and cling to thee—and thou wilt have to carry it about—

And the images and powers which thou hast thus evoked will gather round and form for thee a new body—clamouring for sustenance and satisfaction.

And if thou art not able to discard this image now, thou wilt not be able to discard that body then; but wilt have to carry it about.

Beware then lest it become thy grave and thy prison—instead of thy winged abode and palace of joy.

And seest thou not that except for Death thou couldst never overcome ?

For since by being a slave to things of sense thou hast clothed thyself with a body which thou art not master of, thou wert condemned to a living tomb were that body not to be destroyed. .But now through pain and suffering out on this tomo snalt thou come; and through the experience thou hast acquired shah build thyself a new and better body.;

And so on many times, till thou spreadest wings and hast all powers diabolic and angelic concentred in thy flesh.

And the bodies which I took on yield before him, and were like cinctures of flame upon me, but I flung them aside;

And the pains which I endured in one body were powers which I wielded in the next.


Great truths, greatly spoken. And one day men will believe them in the West, as they believe them, and have ever believed them, in the East.

Through thousands of generations the Immortal Thinker thus patiently toils at his mission of leading the animal-man upwards till he is fit to become one with the Divine. Out of a life, he wins perchance but a mere fragment for his work, yet the final model is of type a little less animal than the man, whose life-work is therein embodied, was when he came into earth-life. On that slightly improved model will be moulded the next man, and from him, at death, is obtained a mould which is again a little less animal, to serve for the next physical body, and so on and on, again and again, generation after generation, millennium after millennium; with many retrogressions constantly recovered; with many failures gallantly made good; with many wounds slowly healed; yet on the whole, upward; yet, on the whole forward; the animal lessening, the human increasing: such is the story of human evolution, such the slowly accomplished task of the Ego, as he raises himself to divine manhood. At a stage in this progress the personalities begin to become translucent, to answer to the vibrations


from the Thinker, and dimly to sense that they are something more than isolated lives, are attached to something permanent, immortal. They may not quite recognise their goal, but they begin to thrill and quiver under the touch of the Light, as buds quiver in the springtime within their cases, preparing to burst them open and to expand in the sunshine. This sense of inborn eternity, and of wondering as to the end, comes out strongly in one of Walt Whitman’s poems:

Facing West from California’s shores,

Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound,

I a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity,

the land of migrations, look afar,

Look off the shores of my Western sea, the circle almost circled; For starting westward from Hindustan, from the vales of Kashmere, From Asia, from the north, from the God, the stage, and the hero, From the south, from the flowery peninsulas and the spice islands, Long having wandered, since, round the earth having wandered. Now I face home again, very pleased and joyous. (But where is what I started for so long ago ? And why is it yet unfound?)


We have already seen generally that the object of reincarnation is to train the animal-man until it becomes the perfect instrument of the Divine, and that the agent in this training is the reincarnating


Ego.    Let us briefly trace the road by which this goal is reached.

When the Manasaputra come down to ensoul the animal-man, their habitation is of matter that has not yet reached its maximum of density. The Thinker, working through this, produces at first what are called psychic qualities in contradistinction to intellectual; the spiritual, on its first contact with astral matter, translates itself into the psychic, and only gradually becomes intellectual, i.e., logical, reasoning, deliberative, by prolonged contact with matter of the denser type. At first intuitive, clairvoyant, communicating with its fellows by thought-transference, as it has to work with denser materials and throw their heavier particles into vibrations, intuition is transformed to reasoning and thought-transference into language. The process is best realised by conceiving of vibrations being set up in ever denser and denser matter, the vibrations in the less dense translating themselves as psychic, in the more dense as rational qualities. The psychic are the swifter, subtler, more direct^ faculties, including clairvoyance, clairaudience, lower forms of intuition, power to transmit and receive thought-impressions without speech; the


rational are slower, and include all the processes of the brain-mind, their characteristic being deliberative reasoning, the forging of a local chain, hammering it out link by link, and, as a necessary condition of this mental labour, the elaboration of language. When this process has been perfected, and the brain has reached its highest point of intellection, responding swiftly to the astral impulses as they reach it, and at once translating them into their intellectual analogues, then the time has come for the next great step onwards, the training of the brain to respond directly to the subtler vibrations, and take them into brain-consciousness without the delaying process of translation. Then the exercise of psychic faculties becomes part of the conscious equipment of the developing man, and they are employed normally and without effort or strain, the brain-mind and the psyche thus becoming unified, and all psychic powers regained with the “addition of the intellectual experience. The temporary obscuration, due to the accretion of the densest matter round the developing man, gradually diminishes as the matter grows ductile and translucent, and thus gross matter is ” redeemed,” i.e., trained into a perfect vehicle of


manifestation for Spirit. ” Civilisation has ever developed the physical and the intellectual at the cost of the psychic and spiritual,” 1 but without this development animal-man could not become divine, the ” perfect septenary being” whom it is the object of reincarnation to evolve.

In the human race we are on the ascending arc; intellectuality pure and simple is reaching its highest possibilities, and on all sides are appearing signs of psychic activities, which, when developed beyond the intellect and not behind it, are the marks of the commencing triumph of the spiritual Man In some men of our race this triumph has been consummated, and these are they who are spoken of as Arhats, Mahatmas, and Masters, With Them the body is the mere vehicle of the spiritual Man, who is no longer cabined and confined by the body he inhabits, but for whom the body is the convenient instrument for work on the physical plane, obediently answering every impulse of its owner, and placing at his disposal powers and faculties for use in the world of gross matter otherwise unattainable by a spiritual Being. A Spirit may be active on the spiritual plane, but is senseless

1 The Secret Doctrine, iii, 318, 1962 ed.


on all others, being unable to act by its subtle essence on planes of grosser matter. A spiritual Intelligence may be active on the spiritual and mental planes, but is still too subtle to work on the grosser. Only, as by incarnation it conquers matter through matter, can it become active on all planes, the” perfect septenary being.” This is the meaning of Arhatship; the Arhat is the spiritual Intelligence that has conquered, subdued, and trained matter, until his body is but the materialised expression of himself, and he is ready for the step that makes him ” Master,” or the Christ triumphant.

Naturally, in such a perfected septenary being are gathered up all the forces of the universe, spiritual, psychic and material. As man’s living body has in it in miniature the forces found in the physical universe, so, as the psychic arid spiritual natures make their impulses felt, the forces of the psychic and spiritual universes can be brought to bear upon the physical. Hence the apparently ” miraculous,” the bringing about of effects the causes of which are hidden, but which are not therefore non-existent; just as the closing of a galvanic circuit may bring about an explosion many miles from the point of closure, so may the


action of the trained will manifest itself in material phenomena on a plane far beneath its own. Man’s ignorance makes the supernatural; knowledge reduces all to the natural; for Nature is but one aspect of the ALL, that aspect which, at the time, is in manifestation.

The question may here arise: And this object attained, what end is thereby served? At this point, several Paths stretch before the triumphant spiritual Man. He has touched the summit of attainment possible here in this world; for further progress he must pass on to other spheres of being; Nirvana lies open before him, the fulness of spiritual knowledge, the Beatific Vision of which Christians have whispered, the peace which passeth understanding. One Path, the Path of Renunciation, the voluntary acceptance of life on earth for the sake of service to the race, is the path of which Kwanyin said when setting resolute foot thereon:

Never will I seek, nor receive, private individual salvation— never enter into final peace alone; but for ever, and everywhere, will I live and strive for the universal redemption of every creature throughout the world.1

The nature and purpose of this choice has been told in the Book of the Golden Precepts, fragments

1 Quoted in Moncure D. Conway’s Sacred Anthology, p. 233.


from which have been done into such noble English “by H. P. Blavatsky. The conqueror stands triumphant; “his mind like a becalmed and boundless ocean, spreadeth out in shoreless space. He holdeth life and death in his strong hand.” Then the question comes:

Now, he shall surely reach his great reward! Shall he not use the gifts which it confers for his own rest and bliss, his well-earned weal and glory—he, the subduer of the great Delusion ?

But the answer rings clearly out:

Nay, O thou candidate for Nature’s hidden lore! If one would follow in the steps of holy Tathagata, those gifts and powers are •not for self. …. Know that the stream of superhuman knowledge, and the Deva-Wisdom thou hast won, must, from thyself, the channel of Alaya, be poured forth into another bed. Know, O Narjol, thou of the Secret Path, its pure fresh waters must be used to sweeter make the Ocean’s bitter waves—that mighty sea of sorrow, formed by the tears of men. Self-doomed to live through future Kalpas, unthanked and unperceived by man; wedged as a stone with countless other stones which form the ” Guardian Wall,” such is thy future if the seventh gate thou passest. Built by the hands of many Masters of Compassion, raised by their tortures, by their blood cemented, it shields mankind, since man is man, protecting it from further and far greater misery and

.sorrow…..Compassion speaks and saith: ” Can there be bliss

when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry? ” Now thou hast heard that which was said. Thou shall attain the seventh step and cross the gate of final knowledge but only to wed woe—if thou wouldst be Tathagata follow upon thy predecessor’s steps, remain unselfish till the endless , end. Thou art enlightened—choose thy way.1

1 The Voice of the Silence, w. 283, 285, 289, 290, 293, 307-10.


The choice which accepts incarnation till the Race has reached its consummation is the crown of the Master, of the perfected Man. His wisdom, His powers, all are thrown at the feet of Humanity, to serve it, help it, guide it on the path Himself has trodden. This then is the end that lies beyond reincarnation for Those whose strong souls can make the GREAT RENUNCIATION! They become the saviours of the world, the blossom and the glory of their Race. Reincarnation builds up the perfect septenary being, and his individual triumph subserves the redemptioii of Humanity as a whole.


The fundamental cause of Reincarnation as of all manifestation, is the desire tor active life, the thirst for sentient existence. Some deep-lying essence of nature, obvious in its workings, but incomprehensible as to its origin and reason, manifests as the ” law of periodicity.” ” An alternation such as that of Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so common, so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is


easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe.”1 The ebb and flow everywhere, the rhythm which is the systole and diastole of the cosmic’ Heart, is manifest on every hand. But the reason for it escapes us; we cannot say why things should be so; we can only see that so they are. And in the Esoteric Philosophy this same law is recognised as extending to the emanation and reabsorption of universes, the Night and Day of Brahma, the out-breathing and the inbreathing of the Great Breath.

Hence the Hindus have pictured the God of Desire as the impulse to manifestation. ” Kama, again, is in the Rig Veda (x, 129) the personification of that feeling which leads and propels to creation. He was the fast movement that stirred the ONE, after its manifestation from the purely abstract Principle, • to create, ‘ Desire first arose in It, which was the primal germ of mind; and which sages, searching with their intellect, have discovered to be the bond whieh connects Entity with Non-Entity.'” 2 Kama is, essentially, the longing for active sentient

1  The Secret Doctrine, i, 82, 1962 ed.

2  Ibid., iii, 183, 1962 ed.


existence, existence of vivid sensation, tossing tur-“bulence of passionate life. When spiritual Intelligence comes into contact with this thirst for sensation, its first action is to intensify it. Says the Stanza: ” From their own essence they filled (intensified) the Kama.” 1 Thus Kama, for the individual as for the Cosmos becomes the primary cause of reincarnation, and, as Desire differentiates into desires, these chain down the Thinker to earth and bring him back, time after time, to rebirth. The Hindu and Buddhist Scriptures are filled with reiterations of this truth. Thus in the Bhagavad Gita we read:

He whose Buddhi is everywhere unattached, the self subdued, dead to desires, he goeth by renunciation to the supreme perfection of freedom from Karma.2

So in the Udanavarga, a Northern Buddhist version of the Dhammapada, translated from the Tibetan, the same note is struck:

It is hard for one who is held by the fetters of desire to free himself of them, says the Blessed One. The steadfast, who care not for the happiness of desires, cast them off, and do soon depart (to Nirvana),3

Again and again seeking for it (existence) they again and again enter the womb; beings come and go; to one state of being

1 The Secret Doctrine, iii,  168, 1962 ed.

2 Discourse xviii, 49.

3 Trans, by W. W. Rockhill, p. 10.


succeeds another. It is hard to cast off (existence) in this world; he who has cast off lust, who has pulled up the seed (of existence), will no more be subject to transmigration, for he has put-an end to lust,1

In the Scriptures of the Southern Buddhist Church stress is continually laid on the same idea. The disciple is bidden not to be confident till he has ” attained the extinction of desires,” and after describing the way in which desires and passions tie men to earthly life, the Dhammapada proceeds:

He who has reached the consummation, who does not tremble, who is without thirst and without sin, he has broken all the thorns, of life: this will be his last body. He who is without thirst and without affection, who understands the words and their interpretation, who knows the order of letters (those which are before and which are after), he has received his last body, he is called the great sage, the great man. ” I have conquered all, I know all, in all conditions of life I am free from taint; I have left all, and through the destruction of thirst I am free.” ‘

And so there is the triumphant apostrophe, when Gautama attains Buddhahood:

Looking for the maker of this tabernacle, I shall have to run. through a course of many births, so long as I do not find (him); and painful is birth again and again. But now, maker of the tabernacle, thou hast been seen; thou shalt not make up this tabernacle again. All thy rafters are broken, thy ridge-pole is sundered; the mind, approaching the Eternal, has attained to the extinction of all desires.3

1 Trans, by W. W. Rockhill, p. 15. 2 Chap, xxiv, 351-53. 3 Chap, xi, 153, 154.


When    the nature of desire is realised by the student,   he will understand why its destruction is necessary to the perfecting of the spiritual Man. Desire   must   be,   till   the harvest of experience has been gathered, for only by feeding on that harvested   experience   can   growth   be   nourished and sustained.    So while experience still is lacking, the thirst for it remains unslacked, and the Ego will   return to  earth  again  and  again.    But its fetters must fall off one by one as the Ego reaches the perfecting of its tabernacle, for desire is personal and therefore selfish, -and when desire prompts action the purity of the action is tainted.    The condition of Arhatship   is   unceasing   activity   without   any personal returns; the Arhat must ” give light to all, but   take   from none.” 1   Hence in the   upward climbing one desire after another must be unloosed, desire for personal enjoyment, personal pleasure, personal   gain,   personal   loves,   personal   attainments, and, last and subtlest of all, desire for personal perfection, for the personal self must be lost in the ONE SELF, that is the SELF of all that lives. And here two warnings against misunderstanding are necessary.    First: personal loves are not to be

1 The Voice of the Silence, p. 67.


killed out, but are to be expanded till they become universal; we are not to love our dearest less, but all are to become dear so that the sorrow of any child of man shall wring our hearts as much as that of our own child, and stir us into equal activity of help. Loves are to be levelled up, not down. The heart is not to be frozen, but to be aflame for all. The failure to realise this, and the tremendous difficulty of the task, when realised, have led to the stifling of love instead of its growth. Overflowing love, not lovelessness, will save the world. The Mahatma is the Ocean of Compassion; He is not an iceberg.

It is easy to see why this widening out must precede the attainment of Mastership, for the Master holds His powers for the good of all and not for the elevation of any particular family or nation. He is the Servant of Humanity, and the way to His help must be need, not kinship. To superhuman powers He must needs join superhuman impartiality, and personal affection must never be allowed to weight the scale of Justice. Beyond all other men He must be a slave to duty, for any swaying from its line would bring about results proportionate to the greatness of His height.


He is to be a force for good, and the good must flow in the channels where it is most needed, not in those cut by personal loves or racial predilections. Hence the long training, the personal asceticism, the isolation, which are the conditions of chelaship.

Second: action is not to be stopped because the disciple no longer seeks the fruits of action as reward. ” Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin.” 1 ” Shalt thou abstain from action ? Not so shall gain thy soul her freedom. To reach Nirvana one must reach Self- Knowledge, and Self-Knowledge is of loving deeds the child.” 1 But while action must be carried on at the full strain of human powers, desire for its fruit in personal satisfaction must pass away. A good deed must be done for the sake of its helpfulness, of its use to others, not for the sake of praise either of others or of self, nor even for the subtler longing for self-improvement. Here again the failure to realise the distinction between action and desire for the fruits of action has led to the stagnation and passivity characteristic of Eastern nations,

1 The Voice of the Silence, p. 31. ‘Ibid.


since spiritual selfishness and indifference brought on their decay.

As this general desire for sentient existence is the cause of reincarnation universally, so is the determining cause of each individual reincarnation the renewed longing for the taste of existence on the physical plane. When a long life on the earth plane has been lived and a store of experiences has been gathered, this longing for physical existence is satiated for the time, and the desire turns towards, rest. Then comes the interval of disembodiment, during which the Ego, re-entering as it were into-himself, ceases to energise externally on the physical plane, and bends all his energies to internal activities, reviewing his gathered store of experiences, the harvest of the earth-life just closed, separating and classifying them, assimilating what is capable of assimilation, rejecting what is effete and useless. This is the work of the devachanic period, the necessary time for assimilation, for gaining equilibrium. As a workman may go out and gather the materials for his work, and having-collected them may return home, sort and arrange them, and then proceed to make from them some artistic or serviceable object, so the Thinker, having;


gathered his store of materials from life’s experiences, must weave them into the web of his millennial existence. He can no more be always busied in the whirl of earth-life than a workman can always be gathering store of materials and never fabricating from them goods; or than a man can always be eating food and never digesting it and assimilating it to build up the tissues of his body. This with the rest needed between periods of activity by all forms of being, makes Devachan an absolute necessity, and rebukes the impatience with which ill-instructed Theosophists chafe against the idea of thus ” wasting time.” The rest itself is a thing, be it remembered, that we cannot do without. ” The tired and worn-out Manu (thinking Ego) ” needs it, and it is only ” the now-rested Ego ” ] that is ready and fit for reincarnation. We have not the energy needed for taking up the burden of the flesh again until this period of refreshment has enabled the forces of life, mental and spiritual, to store themselves up once more in the spiritual man. It is only at the approaching close of the cycle of rebirths that the Ego, grown strong by his millenniums of 1 The Key to Theosophy, pp. 139, 141.


experience, is able to gird himself for the awful strain of his last swiftly recurring lives, ” without devachanic break,” scaling those last seven steps of the ladder of existence with the tireless muscles hardened by the long ascent that lies behind.

One kind of progress—outside the necessary process of assimilation just spoken of, which is a condition of further progress—may be made in Devachan. H. P. Blavatsky says:

In one sense, we can acquire more knowledge; that is, we can •develop further any faculty which we loved and strove after during life, provided it is concerned with abstract and ideal things, such as music, painting, poetry, etc., since Devachan is merely an idealised and subjective continuation of earth-life.1

This may explain the marvellous infantile genius sometimes shown, especially in music, going far beyond any point known to have been reached before in the history of that art in the Aryan race. However that may be, it is well to remember that the resolute following of abstract thought, of idealistic longings, gives a trend to the devachanic state that will make it a state of active, as well as of passive, progress. While Devachan is essentially the world of effects, yet, to this extent, it borrows from the world of causes, though it is also true that 1 The Key to Theosophy, p. 156,


the impulse must be given here which will let the wheel still turn along that peaceful road. In Devachan is no initiation of cause, no origination of endeavour, but it allows of continuation of efforts aimed at the highest planes of being that man can reach from earthly life. Why there should be this possibility it is easy to see, for the abstract and the ideal heights are illumined by the manasic radiance, and that brightens, it is not dimmed, when Manas-Taijasi (the shining or resplendent Manas) soars unfettered to its own plane.

An interesting question arises at this juncture: when the rest period is over, the forces that carried the Ego out of earth-life are exhausted, the longing for sentient physical existence is reviving, and the Ego is ready to cross ” the threshold of Devachan ” and pass to the plane of reincarnation, what now guides him to the special race, nation, family, through which he is to find his new tabernacle of flesh, and what determines the sex he is to wear? Is it affinity? Is it free choice? Is it necessity? No questions fall more readily from an inquirer’s lips.

It is the law of Karma that guides him unerringly towards the race and the nation wherein are to be found the general characteristics that will produce


a body, and provide a social environment, fitted for the manifestation of the general character built up by the Ego in previous earth-lives and for the reaping of the harvest he has sown.

Karma, with its army of Skandhas, waits at the threshold of Devachan, whence the ego re-emerges to assume a new incarnation. It is at this moment that the future destiny of the now rested Ego trembles in the scales of just retribution, as it now falls once again under the sway of active Karmic law. It is in this re-birth which is ready for it, a re-birth selected and prepared by this mysterious, inexorable, but in the equity and wisdom -of its decrees, infallible LAW, that the sins of the previous life of the Ego are punished. Only it is into no imaginary Hell, with, theatrical flames and ridiculous tailed and horned devils, that the Ego is cast, but verily on to this earth, the plane and region of his sins, where he will have to atone for every bad thought and deed. As he has sown so will he reap. Reincarnation will gather around him all those other Egos who have suffered, whether directly or indirectly at the hands, or even through the unconscious instrumentality, of the past personality. They will be thrown by Nemesis in the way of the new man, concealing the ” old, the eternal Ego. . . . The new ” personality ” is no better than a fresh suit of clothes with its specific characteristics,, colour, form and qualities; but the real man who wears it is the same culprit as of old.1

Thus, say, through a militant personality in one incarnation the Ego would set up causes tending to draw him for rebirth to a race and nation passing through a militant period in its history; the Ego of a Roman of the combative colonising type would be drawn, e.g., to the English nation

1 The Key to Theosophy, pp. 141, 142.


under Elizabeth, a nation and epoch at which physical heredity would provide a body, and social forces an environment, fitted for the manifestation of the character built up fifteen centuries before.

Another strand in the rope of Karma, and one of the strongest, is the dominant tendency and trend of the last-closed life. Dominant tendencies and the resolute following of any line of thought and action, reappear as innate qualities. A man of strong will, who steadfastly sets himself to acquire wealth, who follows this resolve through his life relentlessly and unscrupulously, will in another incarnation be likely to be one of those men who are proverbially ” lucky,” of whom it is said, ” Everything he touches turns to gold.” Hence the enormous importance of our choice of ideals, of our selection of our aim in life, for the ideals of one life become the circumstances of the next. If they are selfish, base, material, our next incarnation will bring us into an environment in which they will fall into our grasp. As an iron will compels fortune here, so it stretches its mailed grasp across the gulf of death and rebirth, and grips the end it is resolute to gain; it does not lose tension and force during the devachanic interlude, but


gathers up all its energies and works in subtler matter, so that the Ego finds prepared for it on its return a tabernacle built by that strong and passionate desire and fitted for the accomplishment of the foreseen end. As a man sows so he reaps; he is the master of his destiny, and if he wills to build for temporal success, for physical luxury, none can say him nay. Only by experience he will learn that power and wealth and luxury are but Dead-Sea fruit; that with them the body may be clothed, but the Ego will be shivering and naked; that his true self will not be satisfied with the husks that are fit food but for the swine; and at last, when he has full-fed the animal in him and starved the human, he will, though in the far country whither his wayward feet have carried him, turn yearning eyes towards his true home, and through many lives he will struggle thitherwards with all the force once used for dominance now yoked to service, and the strong man who built his strength for mastery of others will turn it to mastery of self and to training it into obedience to the Law of Love.

The question, “What determines sex?” is a difficult one to answer even by a suggestion, and definite information on this point has not been


given out. The Ego itself is sexless, and each Ego, in the course of its myriad reincarnations, dwells in male and female bodies. As the building up of the perfect humanity is the object of reincarnation, and in this perfect humanity positive and negative elements must find complete equilibrium, it is easy to see that the Ego must by experience develop these characteristics to the fullest in their appropriate physical subjects, and therefore that an alternation of sexes is necessary. It is also noticeable, as a matter of observation, that at this stage of human progress advance is being made in the synthesising process, and we meet noble types of each physical sex showing some of the characteristics historically developed in the other, so that the strength, the firmness, the courage evolved along the male line are welded to the tenderness, the purity, the endurance, evolved along the female, and we catch some glimpse of what humanity shall be when the ” pairs of opposites” divorced for evolution are once more united for fruition. Meanwhile it seems likely that sex-experience constantly redresses the balance of the evolutionary process, and supplies the qualities lacking at any given stage, and also that the karmic consequence of the


infliction of wrong by one sex on another will be the drawing’ back of the wrong-doers to suffer in the wronged sex the effects of the causes they initiated.

Thus Karma traces the line which forms the Ego’s path to the new incarnation, this Karma being the collectivity of causes set going by the Ego himself. In studying this play of karmic forces, however, there is one thing that ought not to be left out of account—the ready acceptance by the Ego, in his clearer-sighted vision, of conditions for his personality far other than the personality might be willing to choose for itself. The schooling of experience is not always pleasant, and to the limited knowledge of the personality there must be much of earth-experience which seems needlessly painful, unjust and useless. The Ego, ere he plunges into the ” Lethe of the body,” sees the causes which ultimate in the conditions of the incarnation on which he is to enter, and the opportunities which there will be therein for growth, and it is easy to realise how lightly will weigh in the balance all passing griefs and pains, how trivial, to that piercing, far-seeing gaze, the joys and woes of earth. For what is each life but a step in the


Perpetual progress for each incarnating Ego, or divine soul, in an evolution from the outward into the inward, from the material to the Spiritual, arriving at the end of each stage at absolute unity with the Divine Principle. From strength to strength, from the beauty and perfection .of one plane to the greater beauty and perfection of another, with accessions of new glory, of fresh knowledge and power in each cycle, such is the destiny of every Ego.1

And with such a destiny, what boots the passing suffering of a moment, or even the anguish of a darkened life ?


The proofs of reincarnation do not amount to a complete and general demonstration, but they establish as strong presumption as can, in the nature of the case, exist. The theory they support affords the only sufficient explanation of the growth, and decay of natio’ns, of the facts of individual evolution, of the varying capacities of man, of recurrent cycles in history, of unique human characters. I am content—despite my own certain knowledge that reincarnation is a fact in nature— to present it here as a reasonable working hypothesis, rather than as a demonstrated theorem 5 for

1 The Key to Theosophy, p. 155.


I am writing for those who are seeking evidence in the facts of human life and history, and for them it cannot at first rise beyond the position of a reasonable hypothesis. Those who know it to be true need no arguments from me.

i. There are some living persons, as well as some not at present in earth-life, who remember their own past incarnation, and can recall their incidents as they can recall those of their present lives. Memory—which is the link between the varying stages of experience of the conscious being, and which carries with it the sense of individuality and of presonality alike—stretches for them through the gateways of past births and deaths, and the nights of death no more break the chain of memory than the nights break it which separate the days of our ordinary life. Occurrences of their past lives are as real experiences of their living selves as though they had happened a few years ago, and to tell them that they did not have these experiences is a view to them as foolish as if you persisted that the events they passed through ten years ago happened to somebody else and not to their same selves. They would not debate the question with you, but would just shrug their


shoulders and drop the subject, for you cannot argue a man’s own experience out of his consciousness. On the other hand, a man’s testimony to facts within his own knowledge cannot demonstrate the reality of those facts tc a second person, and therefore this evidence is not conclusive proof to any one but the experiencer. It is the final certainty of the truth of reincarnation to the person whose memory bears this witness to his own past; its value to the hearer must depend on that hearer’s opinion of the intellectual sanity and moral worth of the speaker. If the speaker be a person of not only ordinary sanity in the affairs of everyday life, but of supreme intellectual strength; a person of not only ordinary morality, but of lofty moral purity, veracity and accuracy; under such circumstances his deliberate statement that he remembers incidents of his own life happening, say, some centuries ago, and his relation of these incidents with their local surroundings in detail, would probably have considerable weight with those familiar with his integrity and ability; it is second-hand evidence, but good of its kind.

ii.    The vegetable, the animal, the man, all show signs of the working of the “law of heredity”, of


the tendency of parents to transmit to their offspring peculiarities of their own organisation. The oak, the dog, the man, are recognisable, under superficial divergences, all the world over. All are generated and grow along definite lines; from two cells, a male and a female, each proceeds, developing along the lines of the parental characteristics. The offspring reproduce the specific parental marks, and however widely families of the same type may differ, we yet recognise the uniting peculiarities. We unite under the name of” dog ” the St. Bernard and the toyterrier, the boarhound and the Italian greyhound, as we unite under the name of” man ” the Veddah and the Englishman, the Aborigine and the Rajput. But when we come to deal with intellectual and moral capacities, say in varieties of dogs and of men, we are struck with a’significant difference. In the dog these vary between comparatively narrow limits; he may be clever or stupid, vicious or reliable, but the difference between a clever and a stupid dog is comparatively small. But in man how huge is the distance which separates the lowest from the highest, whether intellectually or morally! Some can only count ” one, two, three, many,” while others can calculate


distances that have to be reckoned in light-years. In man, and in man only, among all the races that people the earth, do we find such great physical unity and such vast intellectual and moral divergence. I admit physical heredity as explanation of the one, but I need some new factor, not present in the brute, as an explanation of the other. Reincarnation, with its persistent intellectual and moral Ego, learning by experience, developing through millenniums, offers a sufficient cause; and a cause which also explains why a man progresses while animals remain stationary, from the mental and moral standpoint, save as artificially bred and trained by man. As far back as records reach, wild animals have lived as they live now, beasts of prey, herds of buffaloes, tribes of monkeys, communities of ants; they live and die, generation after generation, repeating parental habits, slipping along ancestral grooves, evolving no higher social life. They have physical heredity as man has, but physical heredity-does not-—for it cannot—give them the accumulated experience which enables the persistent human Egos to climb onwards, ever building great civilisations, gathering knowledge, rising higher and higher so that none can trace a limit beyond which Humanity


cannot grow. It is this persistent element, lacking in the animal and present in the man, that explains why the animal is comparatively stationary and the man progressive. There is no individual store-house for the experience gathered by the animal: but man, storing the essence of his experience in the immortal Ego, starts life after life with this store as his possession, and so has the possibility of continued individual growth. For how can intellectual experience be transmitted, save by consciousness? Physical habits, which modify the organism, can be physically transmitted, as the tendency to trot in the horse, to point in the dog, and so on; in animals and in men alike, these facts are notorious. Equally notorious is the fact of the intellectual and moral stagnation of the animal as compared with the progressiveness of man. Another noteworthy fact is that no outside influence can impress on the brains of less developed humans the elementary moral conceptions, which the brains of the more advanced assimilate almost immediately on presentation. Something more than the brain-apparatus is necessary for an intellectual or moral perception, and no training can give this something; training may render delicate the


apparatus, but the impulse from the Ego is needed ere that apparatus can answer to the prompting from without. Nor does it tell against this truth that a European child, shut out of all human companionship, was found to be brutish and scarcely human on his release; for the physical organ needs the healthy play upon it of physical influences, if it is to be used on the physical plane, and if it is disorganised by unnatural treatment it cannot answer to any promptings from the Ego, any more than a piano, left to damp and rust, can give out melodious notes from its injured strings.

iii. Within the limits of a family there are certain hereditary peculiarities which continually reappear, aud a certain ” family likeness ” unites the members of a family. These physical resemblances are patent, and are looked upon as evidences of the law of heredity. So, far, good. But what law explains the startling divergences in mental capacity and moral character that are found within the narrow limits of a single family circle among the children of the same parents ? In a family of quiet, home-loving people, settled on the same spot for generations, is born a lad of wild and rowing spirit, that no discipline can tame, no lure can hold. How can such


a type be found in such surroundings, if the mental and the moral nature be born of ancestral sources ? Or a ” black sheep” is born in a pure and noble family, wringing the hearts that love him, dishonouring a spotless name; whence comes he? Or a white blossom of saintliness unfolds its radiant beauty amid sordid and gross family surroundings; what dropped seed of that exquisite plant into soil so evil ? Here, in every case, reincarnation gives the clue, placing the mental and moral qualities in the immortal Ego, not in the physical body born of the parents. Strong physical likeness is found between brothers whose mental and moral characters are as the: poles asunder. Heredity may explain the one; it cannot explain the other.1 Reincarnation steps in to fill the gap and so renders complete the theory of human growth.

iv. This same problem is presented even more strongly in the case of twins, in which the children have not only identical ancestry, but identical pre-natal conditions. Yet twins often unite the most complete physical likeness with strong

1  I am not forgetting ” reversion ” nor the question of how these discordant types enter a family if the Egos are drawn, as said, to suitable surroundings, but these points will be dealt with under ” objections ”


difference of mental and moral type. And another matter of significance in connection with twins is that during infancy they will often be indistinguishable from each other, even to the keen eye of mother and of nurse. Whereas, later in life, when Manas has been working through his physical encasement, he will have so modified it that the physical likeness lessens and the differences of character stamp themselves on the mobile features, v. Infant precocity demands some explanation at the hands of science. Why can a Mozart, at four, show knowledge in which none has trained him? Not only taste for melody, but ” instinctive ” ability to produce settings for melodies given him, settings which break none of the complicated laws of harmony that the musician has to learn by patient study. ” He was born of a musical family.” Surely; otherwise it is hard to see how the delicate physical apparatus neccessary for the manifestation of his transcendent genius could have been provided ; but if his family gave him the genius as well as the physical machinery for its manifestation, one would like to know why so many shared in the possession of the physical musical apparatus, while none save he showed the power that welled up in


the symphonies, the sonatas, the operas, the masses that flowed in jewelled cascades from that exhaust-less source. How could effect so mighty flow from cause so inadequate? For among all the Mozart family there was only one MozART. And many another case might be quoted in which the child outran its teachers, doing with ease what they had accomplished with toil, and quickly doing what they could in no wise accomplish.

vi. Infant precocity is but a form of manifestation of genius, and genius itself needs explanation. Whence comes it, harder to trace than the track of birds in the air? A Plato, a Dante, a Bruno, a Shakespeare, a Newton; whence are they, these radiant children of Humanity? They spring from mediocre families, the first and the last to make the name immortal, families whose very obscurity is the definite proof that they possess but average abilities; a child is born, loved, caressed, punished, educated, like all the others: suddenly the young eagle soars aloft to the sun from the house-sparrows’ nest beneath the eaves, and the beat of his wings shakes the very air. Did such a thing happen on the physical plane we should not murmur, ” Heredity and a curious case of


reversion; ” we should seek the parent eagle, not trace the genealogy of the sparrows. And so, when the strong Ego stoops to the mediocre family, we must seek in that Ego the cause of the genius, not look for it in the family genealogy.

Will any one venture to explain by heredity the birth into the world of a great moral genius, a Lao-Tze, a Buddha, a Zarathushtra, a Jesus? Is the divine root whence spring these blossoms of humanity to be dug for in the soil of physical ancestry, the sources of their gracious lives the small well of commonplace humanity ? Whence brought they their untaught wisdom, their spiritual insight, their knowledge of human sorrows and human needs? Men have been so dazzled by their teaching that they have dreamed it a revelation from a supernatural Deity, while it is the ripened fruit of hundreds of human lives; those who reject the supernatural Deity must either accept reincarnation or accept the insolubility of the problem of their origin. If heredity can produce Buddhas and Christs, it might well give us more of them.

vii. We are led to the same conclusion by noting the extraordinary differences between people in the power of assimilating knowledge of various kinds.


Take two persons of some intellectual power, clever rather than stupid. Present to each the same system of philosophy. One swiftly grasps its main principles, the other remains passive and inert before it. Present to the same two some other system, and their relative positions will be reversed. One ” has a bent” towards one form of thought, the second towards some other. Two students are attracted to Theosophy and begin to study it; at a year’s end one is familiar with its main conceptions and can apply them, while the other is struggling in a maze. To the one each principle seemed familiar on presentation; to the other, new, unintelligible, strange. The believer in reincarnation understands that the teaching is old to the one and new to the other; one learns quickly because he remembers, he is but recovering past knowledge; the other learns slowly because his experience has not included these truths of nature, and he is acquiring them toilfully for the first time.

viii. Closely allied to this rapid recovery of past knowledge is the intuition which perceives a truth as irue on its presentation, and needs no slow process of argument for arrival at conviction. Such intuition is merely recognition of a fact familiar in


a past life, though met for the first time in the present. Its mark is that no argument strengthens, the internal conviction which came with the mere perception of the fact; arguments demonstrating its reality may be sought and built up for the sake of others, but they are not needed for the satisfaction of the believer himself. That work has been done, so far as he is concerned, in his own previous experience., and he has no need to retravel the same road.

ix. Reincarnation solves, as does no other theory of human existence, the problems of inequality of circumstances, of capacity, of opportunity, which otherwise remain as evidence that justice is not a factor in life, but that men are the mere sport of the favouritism of an irresponsible Creator, or of the blind forces of a soulless Nature. A child is born with a brain fitted to be the instrument of all animal passions, ” criminal brain”, the vehicle of evil desires, brutal instinct; child of a thief and a harlot, his life-blood flows from a foul and poisoned source; his surroundings educate him to vicious courses, train him in all evil ways. Another is born with a nobly moulded brain, fitted to manifest the most splendid intellect, with small physical


substratum as basis and instrument for brutalpassions; child of pure and thoughtful parents, his physical nature is built of good materials, and his surroundings push him along right paths of conduct, train-Ing him to good and generous action, helping him to repress all base and evil thoughts. The one by organism and environment is foredoomed to a life of crime, or at best, if the Divine in him should make itself felt, to a terrific struggle against enormous odds, a struggle which, even should it end in victory, must leave the victor exhausted, maimed, heartbroken. The other by organism and environment is foredoomed to a life of beneficent activity, and his struggles will be not against the evil that drags him down, but after the higher good that allures him upwards. Whence such diverse fates, if these human beings enter for the first time on life’s stage? Shall we say that some conscious and overruling Providence creates two lives, banning the one to uttermost degradation, blessing the other to loftiest possibilities? If so, then a wailing and helpless Humanity, in the grip of a fathomless Injustice, can but shudder and submit, but must cease to speak of Justice or of Love as being attributes of the Deity it worships. If a similar result


comes about by the blind forces of Nature, then also is man helpless in the grasp of causes he can neither fathom nor control, and round his heart, while his race endures, must coil the fanged serpent of poisonous resentment against injustice, good and evil lots being ground out of the lottery wheel of blinded Fortune, lots which fall into men’s laps without power of theirs to accept or to reject. But if reincarnation be true, Justice rules the world and man’s destiny lies in his own hands. The yielding to evil thoughts and acts, the infliction of wrong on others, the unscrupulous pursuance of selfish ends, these built up for the reincarnating Man a brain which is the fit instrument for their increased manifestation, a brain in which all evil tendencies will find grooves ready for their easy working, and in which good forces will seek in vain physical organs for their expression. The nature with such evil physical equipment will be drawn to suitable environment, where opportunities for evil action offer themselves on every hand, to parents whose poisoned bodies can yield the physical materials most fitted to serve as substratum for such manifestation. Terrible? Aye, just as it is terrible that persistent drunkenness should lead to destruction of


body and brain. But where there is justice, inviolable Law, there is hope, for we are then no mere straws driven by the wind, but masters of our own. fate, since by knowledge we can use these laws, which never fail us, and which become our helpers instead of our foes. For as man may build to evil, he may build to good, and the reverse of the results just sketched may be brought about. Resistance of wrong thought and act, patient service of others, scrupulous devotion to unselfish ends, these build up for the reincarnating Man a brain which is the fitted instrument for their increased manifestation, in which all good tendencies will find grooves ready for their easy working, and in which evil forces will seek in vain physical organs for their expression. Such a nature is equally drawn to environment where opportunities for good will crowd around it, to parents worthy to build its physical tabernacle. But in each case the tabernacle is built on the plan supplied by the architect, the Ego, and he is responsible for his work.1

1 It must never be forgotten that worldly, rank, wealth, etc., do not run on all fours with good and evil surroundings. In the first extreme case sketched in the text, the surroundings are distinctly evil, but in the second case the Ego might be surrounded by worldly troubles just because it had won the right to have opportunities of growth.


Again, reincarnation explains to us the extraordinary contrasts between people’s aspirations and their capacities. We find an eager mind imprisoned in a most inefficient body, and we know it is hampered now by its sloth in utilising capacities in a previous life. We find another yearning after the very loftiest attainments, struggling with pathetic eagerness to grasp the subtlest conceptions, while it lamentably fails to assimilate the most elementary and fundamental ideas of the philosophy it would master, or to fulfil the humble requirements of a fairly unselfish and useful life. We recognise that in the past opportunities have been wasted, possibilities of great attainments disregarded or wilfully rejected, so that now the Ego’s upward path is hindered and his strength is crippled, and the soul yearns with pitiful and hopeless eagerness for knowledge, not denied it by any outside power, but unattainable because it cannot see it, though it lies at its very feet.

There is another suggestion that may appeal to those who believe in a personal overruling Providence, who creates the spirits of men. Is it seemly to imagine Deity as at the beck and call of His creatures in the exercise of His creative energy, as


waiting attendant on the passions and lusts of men to create a human spirit to inhabit the body which springs from some evil act of unbridled self-indulgence? This constant creation of new spirits to inhabit forms dependent for their existence on man’s caprice has in it something which must be repugnant to those who reverence their ideal of a Divine Being. Yet there is no other alternative, if they believe man is a spirit—or has a spirit, as they mostly phrase it—and reject reincarnation.

x. Another argument which appeals only to those who believe in the immortality of man is lhai all which begins in time ends in time. All that has a beginning has an ending, and the necessary correlative of immortality after death is eternal existence before birth. This is why Hume declared that metempsychosis was the only theory of the sou! to which philosophy could hearken, since ” what is incorruptible must be ungenerable “. Thought which rises to the dignity of philosophy must accept either reincarnation, or the cessation of individual existence at death.

xi. Yet, again, is it not somewhat irrational, given the immortality of thq spiritual Intelligence in man, to suppose that such an Intelligence comes



into the world, inhabits, say, the body of a primitive man, leaves it, and never returns to learn the innumerable lessons this earthly life can teach, but has not yet taught him? We see how much more of growth, mental and moral, is possible for a man than that accomplished by an uncivilised man. Why should that Intelligence finally quit earth-life until all its lessons have been mastered? To send on that inexperienced Intelligence into some higher sphere of spiritual life is like sending on a boy in the lowest class of a school to the university. Commonsense bids him return for term after term, after the rest of the holidays, until he reaches the highest class, and passes from that, having learned what the school has to teach him, to the wider life and deeper learning of the college.

xii. Analogy suggests the co-existence of the temporary and permanent elements in one life-cycle. The leaves of a tree are born, mature, and fall; during their life they take in nourishment, change it into substances useful to the tree, transmit the result of their life-energy to the tree, and—die. They do not rise again, but the tree endures, and puts out with the new spring a new crop of leaves. So does the personality live, gather in experience, transmute it


into permanent values, transmit it to the enduring tree whence it springs, and then perish: after the winter passes, the Ego puts forth the new personality to do similar work, and so to build up and nourish the growth of the tree of man. And so all through nature we see the temporary serving the permanent, working for the growth of that more enduring life of which it is itself but the passing expression.

xiii. The recurring cycles of history point to the reincarnation of large numbers of persons as it were in bulk. We find at the close of periods of fifteen centuries the re-emergence of the types of intelligence and of character that marked the beginnings of such periods. Let the student, with this idea irr his mind, compare the Augustan period of Roman history with the Elizabethan period of the English. Let him compare the conquering, colonising, empire-building type of the Romans with that of the English. Let him compare the currents of religious thought in the third and fourth centuries after Christ with those of the eighteenth and nineteenth, and see if he cannot trace in the prevalence of mystic and Gnostic thought today any re-emergence from the close of the fourth century. When he has pursued this line of study for a while, he will


begin to see that the statement in Theosophical books that fifteen centuries is the ” average period between incarnations” is not a mere fancy or guess.

xiv.    The rise and decay of races is best explained on the hypothesis of reincarnation.    It is noticed that some races are dying out, despite the efforts which have been made to check their decay; their women become afflicted with sterility and so their numbers steadily diminish, their complete extinction being only a question of time.    The reincarnationist says: ” The Egos are leaving that race; all that can be learned through that particular expression has been   learned;  the  Egos that once informed its children have gone on into other races; there are no more baby Egos to puzzle out through it the lessons of their earliest human experience; hence there is no demand on it from the plane of causes, .and it must inevitably disappear.”    So also do we find that when a race has reached its acme of attainment, slow decline sets in, and synchronously another race begins its upgrowth and rises as the other falls.   For the advanced Egos, having used a racial type to its utmost possibilities, seek then another type with higher possibilities before it, and leaving


the less advanced Egos to incarnate in the first type they themselves pass on to a younger race; and so the succession goes on, less and less advanced Egos incarnating in the first type, which therefore slowly degenerates, until the stage spoken of above is reached and signs of approaching extinction are seen. Many another proof of the reality of reincarnation might be brought forward, but with our limited space these must suffice. The earnest and painstaking student can add others, as his knowledge grows.


The statement of objections here adduced is drawn from those raised by opponents and inquirers, and is merely offered as a sample of those most frequently met.

i. The Loss of Memory. This is fully dealt with under the heading WHAT IT is THAT DOES NOT REINCARNATE, and the explanation need not be repeated here.

ii. The Increase of Population. If the number of Egos, it is asked, be a fixed number, how do you account for the increase of population? This is perfectly consistent with a growth in the number of the incarnated Egos, seeing the small proportion


these bear to the total number of Egos out of incarnation. To reduce the answer to a very concrete form: if, for example, there are three thousand Egos to be incarnated; one hundred are incarnated, leaving two thousand nine hundred out of incarnation; a period of fifteen hundred years is to elapse before the first hundred come into incarnation again, and so with each successive hundred; a very slight shortening of the period out of incarnation for seme must vastly increase the incarnated population. Those who raise this objection generally take it for granted that the proportion of Egos out of incarnation to those in incarnation is about half and half, whereas the number out of incarnation is enormously greater than that of the Egos incarnated. The globe is as a small hall in a large town, drawing the audiences that enter it from the total population. It may be at one time half empty, at another crowded, without any change in the total population of the town. So our little globe may be thinly or thickly populated, and the vast number of Egos on which it draws to replenish its stock of inhabitants remains practically inexhaustible.

iii.    Reincarnation ignores the Law of Heredity,    On the contrary, it enforces it on the physical plane.


It admits that the parents in giving the physical materials stamp these with their own signet, so to speak, and that the molecules built into the child’s body carry with them the habit of vibrating in definite ways and of associating themselves in particular combinations. Thus will be conveyed hereditary diseases; thus will be transmitted little tricks of manner, habits, gestures, etc. ” But,” the objector proceeds, ” this is not all. Mental likenesses are transmitted, mental peculiarities as well as physical.” This is true within limits, but not to the extent taken for granted by those who would explain everything by the working of a single law. Etheric atoms as well as physical are contributed by the parents, as are also kamic elements —especially by the mother—and these work on the molecules of the brain as well as on those of the rest of the body, and so cause the reappearance in the child of vital and passional characteristics of the parents, modifying the manifestations of the Thinker, the Manas, the reincarnating Ego. The theory of reincarnation admits all these modes of influence by the parents on the child, but while allowing to the fullest for these, it refuses to ignore all the independent actions of which exist proof as


striking as those of parental influence on the Lower Quaternary; and so Theosophy gives a full explanation of differences and of similarities, whereas, heredity gives only a partial and one-sided one, laying stress on the similarities and ignoring the differences.

iv. Reversion is sufficient to explain the differences, is the answer to the last criticism; genius is explained by reversion, as are all types wholly different from, the immediate progenitors. But if genius be a case of reversion then we ought to be able to recognise the ancestor endowed with it, since it marks out its possessor from the crowd. Genius-should only appear, however long the intervals, in families in which it has already been manifested. If Shakespeare be an instance of reversion, to whom did he revert? The very fact that a genius suddenly renders illustrious a family hitherto obscure negates, the hypothesis of reversion, since the obscurity is itself the guarantee of the absence of genius. It may also be remarked that when the birth of a vicious, child in a virtuous family is put down to reversion, the explanation is a pure guess without a shadow of proof in its support. If genius could be established as a reversion, then, by analogy, the other


cases might be similarly argued for, but where the presumption is against this explanation in the case in which it might easily be verified, if true, little stress can be laid on it in cases in which verification is almost necessarily impossible.

v. The appearance of a vicious child in a virtuous family, and of a virtuous child in a vicious family, is against the theory that the Ego is drawn to those who can give it a suitable body and environment. At the first blush, this objection seems a strong one, but it leaves out of account the very important question of karmic ties. The Esoteric Philosophy teaches that the future destinies of Egos become intertwined by the relations set up between them in any earth-life. Love and hatred, service and injury, comradeship in good and evil, all tend to draw the Egos back to earth-life together, for the joint working out of effects jointly caused. Hence the shocking, and on this plane unnatural, hatreds found to exist sometimes between parents and children, brothers and sisters—hatreds as inexplicable as they are malignant, marked with monstrous features of revenge as for some unremembered but dominating wrong. Hence, too, the inseverable ties that bind hearts together, out-reaching distance,


out-lasting time, ties whose uncaused strength in this life points to a genesis beyond the portal of birth.


And here must end this imperfect treatment of a theme too vast and too deep for pen feeble as mine. This sketch can but serve as elementary introduction to a study of one of the weightiest problems of human existence, a study more vital, perchance, to our present stage of civilisation than any other in which the mind of man can engage. All life changes its aspect when reincarnation becomes a deeply settled conviction, beyond all argument, raised above all dispute. Each day of life but one page in the great drama of existence; each sorrow but the fleeting shadow cast by a passing cloud; each joy but a gleam of sunshine reflected from a swinging mirror; each death but the moving from a worn-out house. The strength of an eternal youth begins slowly to pass into the awakening life; the calmness of a vast serenity broods over the tossing waves of human thought; the radiant glory of the immortal Intelligence pierces the thick


dusky clouds of matter, and the imperishable Peace that nought can ruffle sheds its pure whiteness over the triumphant spirit.    Pinnacle after pinnacle of spiritual heights lift themselves into the illimitable ether, steps which climb the   azure immeasurable, and fade into the infinite  distance which shrouds the Future, immense and unimaginable by the very spirit in man.    And then, ” blinded by the excess of light,” wrapped in a hope too deep to be joyous, too sure to be triumphant, too vast to be syllabled, Man entres into the All-consciousness to which our consciousness is as senselessness, till Eternity again thrills with  the summons: COME FORTH, FOR THE DAY OF BRAHMA is DAWNING AND THE NEW WHEEL



Bhagavad Gita notes

Notes On

The Bhagavad-Gita

The First Seven Chapters



The Remaining Chapters by a

Student Taught by Him.



 1   2    3    4    5   6  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15 16 17 18


This book has been made possible by the generosity of a Student who is a member of The United Lodge of Theosophists. The matter in it appeared in the Magazine Theosophy, published by that Lodge, in various issues from November, 1913, to February, 1917. Notes upon chapters One to Seven, inclusive, were written by William Q. Judge, and were first printed in his magazine The Path, appearing in various numbers from 1887 to 1895. These Notes by Mr. Judge were signed “William Brehon, F. T. S.,” or “William Brehon”—pen names used by Mr. Judge. The Notes for the remaining eleven Chapters were written by a Student of William Q. Judge, one who was personally taught by him and whose explanations and comments will be found in accord with the spirit and genius of his Teacher.

No attempt has been made to alter or revise Mr. Judge’s Notes so that they may be in “book form.” Quite often Mr. Judge devoted several articles, appearing in several different numbers of The Path, to a consideration of a single Gita Chapter, and the reader of this book wilt note that fact as he peruses its pages. The compilers have inserted rules to show where one such article leaves off and another begins. The reader will note the initials “W. B.” or “B.” signed to some of the footnotes: these stand for “William Brehon” or “Brehon,” and were written, of course, by Mr. Judge.

The form and size of this book are designed to conform to that of Mr. Judge’s rendering of the Bhagavad-Gita itself, which has been found so convenient by thousands of students.

The Publishers.



Chapter I

If the title of this sacred Hindu poem were paraphrased, it would read:

The Holy Song of God Himself, who, at the beginning of Kali yuga or the dark age, descended upon earth to aid and instruct Man.

GITA means song, and BHAGAVAD is one of the names of Krishna. Krishna was an Avatar. According to the views of the Brahmins, we are now in Kali-yuga, which began about the time of Krishna’s appearance. He is said to have descended in order to start among men those moral and philosophical ideas which were necessary to be known during the revolution of the Age, at the end of which―after a brief period of darkness―a better Age will begin.

The composition of this poem is attributed to Vyasa and, as he is also said to have given the Vedas to men, a discussion about dates would not be profitable and can well stand over until some other occasion.


     The Bhagavad-Gita is a portion of the Mahabharata, the great epic of India. The Mahabharata is so called because it contains the general history of the house of Bharat, and the prefix Maha signifies great. Its more definite object, however, is to give an account of the wars of the Kurus and Pandus, two great branches of the family. And that portion included in our poem is the sublime philosophical and metaphysical dialogue held by Krishna with Arjuna, on the eve of a battle between the two aspirants for dominion.

The scene of the battle is laid on the plain called “Kurukshetra,” a strip of land near Delhi, between the Indus, the Ganges, and the Himalayan mountains. Many European translators and commentators, being ignorant of the psychological system of the Hindus―which really underlies every word of this poem ― have regarded this plain and the battle as just those two things and no more; some have gone so far as to give the commercial products of the country at the supposed period, so that readers might be able, forsooth, in that way to know the motives that prompted the two princes to enter into a bloody internecine conflict. No doubt such a conflict did take place, for man is continually imitating the higher


spiritual planes; and a great sage could easily adopt a human event in order to erect a noble philosophical system upon such an allegorical foundation.

In one aspect history gives us merely the small or great occurrences of man’s progress; but in another, any one great historical epoch will give us a picture of the evolution in man, in the mass, of any corresponding faculty of the Individual Soul. So we see, here and there, Western minds wondering why such a highly tuned metaphysical discussion should be “disfigured by a warfare of savages.” Such is the materializing influence of Western culture that it is hardly able to admit any higher meaning in a portion of the poem which confessedly it has not yet come to fully understand.

Before the Upanishads can be properly rendered, the Indian psychological system must be understood; and even when its existence is admitted, the English speaking person will meet the great difficulty arising from an absence of words in that language which correspond to the ideas so frequently found in the Sanskrit. Thus we have to wait until a new set of words has been born to express the new ideas not yet existing in the civilization of the West.

The location of the plain on which this battle


was fought is important, as well as are also the very rivers and mountains by which it is bounded. And as equally needful to be understood, or at least guessed at, are the names of the respective princes. The very place in the Mahabharata in which this episode is inserted has deep significance, and we cannot afford to ignore anything whatever that is connected with the events. If we merely imagine that Vyasa or Krishna took the sacred plain of Kurukshetra and the great battle as simply accessories to his discourse, which we can easily discard, the whole force of the dialogue will be lost. Although the Bhagavad-Gita is a small work, there have been written upon it, among the Hindus, more commentaries than those upon the Revelation of St. John among the Christians.

I do not intend to go into those commentaries, because on the one hand I am not a Sanskrit scholar, and on the other it would not tend to great profit. Many of them are fanciful, some unwarrantable; and those that are of value can be consulted by anyone anxious to pursue that line of inquiry. What I propose here to myself and to all who may read these papers is to study the Bhagavad-


Gita by the light of that spiritual lamp — be it small or great — which the Supreme Soul will feed and increase within us if we attend to its behests and diligently inquire after it. Such at least is the promise by Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita ― the “Song Celestial.”—


     In the few introductory lines with which I took up this subject, it was stated that not being a Sanskrit scholar I did not intend to go into the commentaries upon the poem in that language. The great mass of those commentaries have looked at the dialogue from various standpoints. Many later Hindu students have not gone beyond the explanations made by Sankaracharya, and nearly all refuse to do more than transliterate the names of the different personages referred to in the first chapter.

But there is the highest authority for reading this poem between the lines. The Vedas themselves say that what we see of them is only “the disclosed Veda,” and that one should strive to get above this disclosed word. It is here clearly implied that the undisclosed Vedas must be hidden or contained in that which is apparent to the outer senses. Did we not have this privilege, then surely would we be reduced


to obtaining true knowledge solely from the facts of experience as suffered by the mortal frame, and fall into the gross error of the materialists who claim that mind is only an effect produced by the physical brain-molecules coming into motion. We would also have to follow the canonical rule, that conscience is a safe guide only when it is regulated by an external law such as the law of the church, or of the Brahmanical caste. But we very well know that within the material, apparent―or disclosed ― man, exists the real one who is undisclosed.

This valuable privilege of looking for the inner sense, while not straining after impossible meanings in the text, is permitted to all sincere students of any holy scriptures, Christian or Pagan. And in the poem itself, Krishna declares that he will feed the lamp of spiritual wisdom so that the real meaning of his words may be known; so too the Upanishads uphold the existence of a faculty together with the right to use it, whereby one can plainly discern the real, or undisclosed, meaning of holy books. Indeed, there is a school of occultists who hold, as we think with reason, that this power may be so developed by devoted persons, that even upon hearing the words of a holy book read in a totally un-


familiar language, the true meaning and drift of the strange sentences become instantly known. (1) The Christian commentators all allow that in studying their Bible the spirit must be attended to and not the letter. This spirit is that undisclosed Veda which must be looked for between the lines.

Nor should the Western student of the poem be deterred from any attempt to get at the real meaning by the attitude of the Brahmins, who hold that only Brahmins can be told this real meaning, and, because Krishna did not make it plain, it may not be made plain now to Sudras, or low caste people. Were this view to prevail, then the whole Western body of students would be excluded from using this important book, inasmuch as all persons not Hindus are necessarily of Sudra caste. Krishna did not make such an exclusion, which is only priestcraft. He was himself of shepherd caste and not a Brahmin; and he says that anyone who listens to his words will receive great benefit. The sole limitation made by him is that one in which he declares that these things must not be taught to those who do not want
(1)  We have in mind an incident where a person of some slight development in this direction, heard read several verses from the Vedas in Sanskrit―with which he had no acquaintance―and instantly told what the verses were about.


to listen, which is just the same direction as that given by Jesus of Nazareth when he said, “cast not your pearls before swine.”

But as our minds work very much upon suggestion or clues and might, in the absence of any hints as to where those clues are placed, be liable to altogether overlook the point, we must bear in mind the existence among the Aryans of a psychological system that gives substance and impulse to utterances declared by many Orientalists to be folly unworthy of attention from a man of the nineteenth century civilization. Nor need we be repulsed from our task because of a small acquaintance with that Aryan psychology. The moment we are aware of its existence in the poem, our inner self is ready to help the outer man to grasp after it; and in the noble pursuit of these great philosophical and moral truths, which is only our eternal endeavor to realize them as a part of our being, we can patiently wait for a perfect knowledge of the anatomy and functions of the inner man.

Western Sanskritists have translated many important words into the very lowest of their real meanings, being drawn away from the true by the incomplete Western psychological and spiritual knowledge, or have mixed them


up hopelessly. Such words as karma and dharma are not understood. Dharma means law, and is generally turned into duty, or said to refer merely to some rule depending upon human convention, whereas it means an inherent property of the faculties or of the whole man, or even of anything in the cosmos. Thus it is said that it is the duty, or dharma, of fire to burn. It always will burn and thus do its whole duty, having no consciousness, while man alone has the power to retard his “journey to the heart of the Sun,” by refusing to perform his properly appointed and plainly evident dharma. So again, when we read in the Bhagavad-Gita that those who depart this life “in the bright half of the moon, in the six months of the sun’s northern course,” will go to eternal salvation, while others, “who depart in the gloomy night of the moon’s dark season while the sun is in the southern half of his path,” ascend for a time to the moon’s region, to be reborn on this earth, our Orientalists tell us this is sheer folly, and we are unable to contradict them. But if we know that the Aryans, with a comprehensive knowledge of the vast and never inharmonious correspondence reigning throughout the macrocosm, in speaking thus meant to admit that the human


being may be or not in a state of development in strict conformity to the bright or dark moon, the verse becomes clear. The materialistic critic will take the verse in the fourth chapter, which says that “he who eats of the ambrosia left from a sacrifice passes into the supreme spirit,” and ask us how the eating of the remnants of a burnt offering can confer salvation. When, however, we know that Man is the altar and the sacrifice, and that this ambrosia is the perfection of spiritual cultivation which he eats or incorporates into his being, the Aryan is vindicated and we are saved from despair.

A strange similarity on one point may be noticed between our poem and the old Hebrew record. The Jews were prepared by certain experiences to enter into the promised land, but were unable to do so until they had engaged in mighty conflicts with Hivites, Jebusites, Perizzites, and Amalekites. Here we find that the very opening verse signalizes a war. The old, blind king Dhritarashtra asks his prime minister to tell him what these opposing forces of Pandus and Kurus have been doing assembled as they are resolved upon war. So too the Jews assembled upon the borders of the promised land, resolved on conflict, and sustained in their resolve by the declarations


of their God who had brought them out of the darkness of Egypt, carried on the fight. Egypt was the place where they had, in mystic language, obtained corporification, and stands for antenatal states, for unformed chaotic periods in the beginning of evolution, for the gestation in the womb. We are on the eve of a gigantic combat, we are to rush into the midst of “a conflict of savages.” If this opening verse is understood as it was meant, we are given the key to a magnificent system, and shall not fall into the error of asserting that the unity of the poem is destroyed.

Dhritarashtra is blind, because the body, as such, is blind in every way.

Someone has said― Goethe I think―that the old pagan religions taught man to look up, to aspire continually toward the greatness which was really his to achieve, and thus led him to regard himself as but little less, potentially, than a god; while the attitude of man under the Christian system is one of humility, of bowed head and lowered eyes, in the presence of his God. In approaching the “jealous God” of the Mosaic dispensation, it is not permissible to assume an erect position. This change of attitude becomes necessary as soon as we postulate a Deity who is outside and be-


yond us. And yet it is not due to the Christian scriptures in themselves, but solely to the wrong interpretation given them by priests and churches, and easily believed by a weak humanity that needs a support beyond itself on which to lean.

The Aryans, holding that man in his essence is God, naturally looked up to him and referred everything to him. They therefore attributed to the material of the body no power of sight or feeling. And so Dhritarashtra, who is material existence, in which thirst for its renewal inheres, is blind.

The eye cannot see nor the ear hear, of themselves. In the Upanishads the pupil is asked: “What is the sight of the eye, and the hearing of the ear?” replying that these powers reside solely with inner organs of the soul, using the material body as the means for experiencing the phenomena of material life. Without the presence of this indwelling, informing, hearing and seeing power ―or being―this collection of particles now deified as body is dead or blind.

These philosophers were not behind our nineteenth century. Boscovich, the Italian, Faraday, Fiske and other moderns, have concluded that we cannot even see or know the matter of which these bodies and the different


 substances about us are made up, and that the ultimate resolution is not into atoms finely divided, but into “points of dynamic force”; and therefore, we cannot know a piece of iron, we only know the phenomena it produces. This position is an ancient Aryan one, with another added―that the real perceiver of those phenomena is the Self.

It is only by an acceptance of this philosophy that we will ever comprehend the facts of nature which our science is so laboriously noting and classifying. But that science ignores a large mass of phenomena well known to spiritualists here and to ascetics in Asia, because the actual existence of the Self as the final support of every phase of consciousness is denied. “The disappearance of the ascetic is a possibility.” But the West denies it, while it is doubtful if even spiritists will admit that any living man can cause that phenomenon known as “form” to disappear. They are, however, willing to grant that a “materialized spirit form” may disappear, or that some mediums are living who have disappeared while sitting in a chair, either as an actual dissipation of molecules or by being covered as with a veil. (1)
(1) For an instance see Olcott’s “People from the Other World”, respecting a female medium.―W.B.


In those instances the thing happened without knowledge or effort on the part of the medium, who was a passive agent. But the Eastern ascetic, possessing the power of disappearing, is a person who has meditated upon the real basis of what we know as “form,” with the doctrine ever in view, as stated by Boscovich and Faraday, that these phenomena are not realities per se, and adding that all must be referred to the Self. And so we find Patanjali in his compilation of yoga aphorisms stating the matter. In his twenty-first aphorism Book III, he says that the ascetic being aware that form, as such, is nothing, can cause himself to disappear (1) It is not difficult to explain this as a species of hypnotism or psychologizing performed by the ascetic. But such sort of explaining is only the modern method of getting out of a difficulty by stating it over again in new terms. Not until it is admitted that the Self eternally persists, and is always unmodified, will any real knowledge be acquired by us respecting these matters. In this Patanjali is very clear in his seventeenth aphor-
(1) The aphorism reads: “By performing Sanyama―restraint (or meditation)―about form, its power of being apprehended (by the seer’s eye) being checked, and luminousness, the property of the organ of sight, having no connection with its object (that is the form), the result is the disappearance of the ascetic.” ―W.B.


ism, Book IV, where he says: “The modifications of the mental state are always known, because the presiding spirit is not modified.”

We must admit the blindness of Dhritarashtra, as body, and that our consciousness and ability to know anything whatever of the modifications going on in the organism, are due to the “presiding spirit.”

So this old, blind rajah is that part of man which, containing the principle of thirst for existence, holds material life. The Ganges bounding his plain on one side typifies the sacred stream of spiritual life incarnated here.

At first it flows down unperceived by us, through the spiritual spheres, coming at last into what we call matter, where it manifests itself but yet remains unseen, until at last it flows into the sea―or death―to be drawn up again by the sun―or the karma of reincarnation. The plain is sacred because it is the “temple of the Holy Ghost.” Kurukshetra should then read: “The body which is acquired by karma.” So the king does not ask what this body itself has been doing, but what have the followers of material existence, that is the entire host of lower elements in man by which he is attached to physical life, and the followers of Pandu, that is the en-


tire set of spiritual faculties, been doing on this sacred plain.

It follows then that the enumeration of generals and commanders gone into by the prime minister in reply to the king must be a catalogue of all the lower and higher faculties in man, containing also, in the names adopted, clues to powers of our being only at present dimly guessed at in the West or included in such vague terms as brain and mind. We find these generals given their appropriate places upon either side, and see also that they have assigned to them various distinctive weapons, which in many cases are flourished or exhibited in the preliminary movements, so that our attention may be drawn to them.


     Salutation to Krishna! the Lord of Devotion, the God of Religion, the never failing help of those who trust in him.

We now have discovered that the poem is not disfigured by this account of a conflict that begins in the first chapter; to be then dropped while the two great actors retire to their chariot for a discussion. This description of forces, and the first effect on Arjuna of his survey, show us that we are now to learn from Krishna what is the duty of man in his warfare with all


the forces and tendencies of his nature. Instead of the conflict being a blemish to the poem, it is a necessary and valuable portion. We see that the fight is to be fought by every human being, whether he lives in India or not, for it is raging on the sacred plain of our body. Each one of us, then, is Arjuna.

In the Sanskrit, the first chapter is called “Arjuna-Vishada,” which in English means, “The despair and despondency of Arjuna.” Some have called it “The Survey of Army”; but while truly an army is surveyed, that is not the essential meaning intended. It is the result of the survey we are to consider; and that result upon Arjuna who is the person most interested―the one who is the chief questioner and beneficiary throughout the whole action of the poem―is despondency.

     The cause of this despondency is to be inquired into.

Arjuna, in the flush of determination, and before any analysis of either the consequences to himself or to others who might become involved, entered the conflict, after having chosen Krishna as his charioteer. The forces are drawn up in line of battle, and he rides out to survey them. At once he sees ranged against him relatives of every class, in their turn pre-


paring to destroy others, their relatives, friends and acquaintances as well as Arjuna’s, who are enlisted on his side. Turning to Krishna, he says that he cannot engage in such a war, that he perceives only evil omens, and that even if the opposers, being ignorant, may be willing to fight with such dreadful consequences in view, he cannot do so, but must give up the battle ere it is begun. Thereupon:

Arjuna, whose heart was troubled with grief, let fall his bow and arrows, and sat down on the bench of his chariot.

Every student of occultism, theosophy or true religion―all being the one thing― will go through Arjuna’s experiences. Attracted by the beauty or other seductive quality, for him, of this study, he enters upon the prosecution of it, and soon discovers that he arouses two sets of forces. One of them consists of all his friends and relations who do not view life as he does, who are wedded to the “established order,” and think him a fool for devoting any attention to anything else; while the general mass of his acquaintances and those whom he meets in the world instinctively array themselves against one who is thus starting upon a crusade that begins with his own


follies and faults, but must end in a condemnation of theirs, if only by the force of example. The other opponents are far more difficult to meet, because they have their camp and base of action upon the Astral and other hidden planes; they are all his lower tendencies and faculties, that up to this time have been in the sole service of material life. By the mere force of moral gravity, they fly to the other side, where they assist his living friends and relatives in their struggle against him. They have more efficiency in producing despondency than anything else. In the poem, it is referred to in the words addressed by Arjuna to Krishna:

“I am not able to stand; for my understanding, as it were turneth round, and I behold inauspicious omens on all sides.”

All of us are brought to this study by our own request made to our higher self, who is Krishna. Arjuna requested Krishna to be his charioteer, and to drive him forth between the two armies. It does not matter whether he now is consciously aware of having made the request, nor whether it was made as a specific act, in this life or in many another precedent one; it was made and it is to be answered at


 the right time. Some of us have asked this many times before, in ancient births of ours in other bodies and other lands; others are making the request now; but it is more than likely in the case of those who are spurred on to intense effort and longing to know the truth, and to strive for unity with God, that they have put up the petition ages since. So now Krishna, the charioteer of this body with its horses―the mind―drives us forth so that we may stand with our higher self and all the tendencies connected with it on one side, and all the lower (but not all necessarily evil) principles on the other. The student may, perhaps, with ease face the crowd of friends and relatives, having probably gone through that experience in other lives and is now proof against it, but he is not proof against the first dark shadow of despair and ill result that falls upon him. Every elemental that he has vivified by evil thinking now casts upon him the thought, “After all, it is no use; I cannot win; if I did, the gain would be nothing; I can see no great or lasting result to be attained, for all, all, is impermanent.”

This dreadful feeling is sure in each case to supervene, and we might as well be prepared


for it. We cannot always live on the enthusiasm of heavenly joys. The rosy hue of dawn does not reach round the world; it chases darkness. Let us be prepared for it, not only at the first stage, but all along in our progress to the holy seat; for it comes at each pause; at that slight pause when we are about to begin another breath, to take another step, to pass into another condition.

And here it is wise, turning to the 18th, and last, chapter of the poem, to read the words of the immortal master of life:

“From a confidence in thine own self-sufficiency thou mayest think that thou wilt not fight. Such is a fallacious determination, for the principles of thy nature will compel thee. Being confined to actions by the duties of thy natural calling, thou wilt involuntarily do that from necessity, which thou wantest through ignorance to avoid. ”

In this, Krishna uses the very argument advanced by Arjuna against the fight, as one in its favor. In the chapter we are considering, Arjuna repeats the old Brahmanical injunction against those who break up the “eternal institutions of caste and tribe,” for, as he says, the penalty annexed is a sojourn in hell, since, when the caste and tribe are destroyed, the ancestors, being deprived of the rites of


funeral-cakes and libations of water (1), fall from heaven, and the whole tribe is thus lost. But Krishna shows, as above, that each man is naturally, by his bodily tendencies, compelled to do the acts of some particular calling, and that body with its tendencies is merely the manifestation of what the inner man is, as the result of all his former thoughts up to that incarnation. So he is forced by nature’s law―which is his own―to be born just where he must have the experience that is needed. And Arjuna, being a warrior, is compelled to fight, whether he will or no. In another chapter, the institution of caste is more particularly referred to, and there we
(1) This reference by Arjuna is to the immemorial custom of the son, or descendants, offering to the departed, at stated times, funeral-cakes and water, called “Sraddha and Pinda”―one of the so-called superstitions of the Hindus.

It has always been a grave question with me whether the boasted “freedom from superstitions” of Western 19th century civilization is an unmixed good, or any evidence of real progress. All such ancient forms have been swept away, and with them nearly every vestige of true religious feeling, leaving only an unquenchable thirst for money and power. In the present ignorance of the true reason at the bottom of these forms, the assertion is made that they mean nothing whatever. But in the Catholic church it is continued, and to some extent believed in, as is shown in their masses for the dead; surely these masses would not be offered if supposed to have no effect on the state of those for whom they are offered.

Although greatly corrupted and debased, it is in this church alone that these old practices are preserved. Sraddha and Pinda are now neglected, because the inner constitution of man, and the constitution of the macrocosm, are not understood in such a way as to make the ceremony of the slightest use. ―W.B.


will have occasion to go into that subject with more detail.

As stated in the last paper, the substratum, or support, for the whole cosmos, is the presiding spirit, and all the various changes in life, whether of a material nature or solely in mental states, are cognizable because the presiding spirit within is not modifiable. Were it otherwise, then we would have no memory, for with each passing event, we, becoming merged in it, could not remember anything, that is, we would see no changes. There must therefore be something eternally persisting, which is the witness and perceiver of every passing change, itself unchangeable. All objects, and all states of what Western philosophers call mind, are modifications, for in order to be seen or known by us, there must be some change, either partial or total, from a precedent state. The perceiver of these changes is the inner man―Arjuna-Krishna.

This leads us to the conviction that there must be a universal presiding spirit, the producer as well as the spectator, of all this collection of animate and inanimate things. The philosophy taught by Krishna holds that at first this spirit―so called, however, by me only for the purpose of the discussion―remained in


a state of quiet with no objects, because as yet there was no modification. But, resolving to create, or rather to emanate the universe, IT formed a picture of what should be, and this at once was a modification willingly brought about in the hitherto wholly unmodified spirit; thereupon the divine Idea was gradually expanded, coming forth into objectivity; while the essence of the presiding spirit remained unmodified, and became the perceiver of its own expanded idea. Its modifications are visible (and invisible) nature. Its essence then differentiates itself continually in various directions, becoming the immortal part of each man―the Krishna who talks to Arjuna. Coming like a spark from the central fire, it partakes of that nature, that is, the quality of being unmodifiable, and assumes to itself―as a cover, so to speak―the human body (1) and thus, being in essence unmodified, it has the capacity to perceive all the changes going on around the body.

This Self must be recognized as being within, pondered over, and as much as possible understood, if we are to gain any true knowledge.

We have thus quickly, and perhaps in an
(1) It is also, of course, inherent in all nature. ―W.B.


inadequate way, come down to a consideration of Arjuna as composed of all these generals and heroes enumerated in this chapter, and who are, as we said, the various powers, passions and qualities included in the Western terms “brain and mind.”

Modern physical, mental and psychological sciences have as yet but scratched the surface of that which they are engaged in examining. Physical science confessedly is empiric, knowing but the very outposts of the laws of nature; and our psychology is in a worse state. The latter has less chance for arriving at the truth than physical science, because scientists are proceeding to a gradual demonstration of natural laws by careful examination of facts easily observable, but psychology is a something which demands the pursuit of another method than that of science, or those now observed.

It would avail nothing at present to specify the Aryan nomenclature for all the sheaths―as they call them―that envelope the soul, because we as yet have not acquired the necessary ideas. Of what use is it to say that certain impressions reside in the Anandamaya sheath. But there is such an one, whether we call it by that name or by any other. We


can, however, believe that the soul, in order to at last reach the objective plane where its experience is gained, places upon itself, one after the other, various sheaths, each having its peculiar property and function. The mere physical brain is thus seen to be only the material organ first used by the real percipient in receiving or conveying ideas and perceptions; and so with all the other organs, they are only the special seats for centralizing the power of the real man in order to experience the modifications of nature at that particular spot.

     Who is the sufferer from this despondency?

It is our false personality as distinguished from Krishna―the higher self―which is oppressed by the immediate resistance offered by all the lower part of our nature, and by those persons with whom we are most closely connected, as soon as we begin to draw them away from all old habits, and to present a new style of thinking for their consideration.

For Arjuna, sinking down upon the seat of that chariot which is his body, fell back upon his own nature and found therein the elements of search and courage, as well as those previous ones of gloom which arise first, being nearer


 the natural man. Reliance and pressure upon our own inner nature, in moments of darkness, are sure to be answered by the voice of Krishna, the inner guide.

     The first consequences of the despondency

Are to make us feel that the battle we have invited ought not to be carried on, and we then are almost overwhelmed with the desire to give it up. Some do give it up, to begin it again, in a succeeding life, while others like Arjuna listen to the voice of Krishna, and bravely fight it out to the end.

“Thus, in the Upanishads, in the holy Bhagavad-Gita, in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the Book of Devotion, in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna, stands the first chapter by name:


Salutation to the god of battles, to the charioteer, to him who disposeth the forces aright, who leadeth us on to victory, with whom alone success is certain: that he may guide us to where the never-dying light shineth:   Om!



Salutation to the prowess of Krishna! May it be with us in the fight, strengthening our hearts that


they faint not in the gloomy night that follows in the path of the day.

The first chapter is ended. In one aspect, the Bhagavad-Gita is a personal book. It is for each man; and it is in that way we have so far considered it. Some have called it obscure, and others a book which deals solely with the great principles of nature; with only great questions of cosmogony; with difficult and bewildering questions relating to the first cause; and still others think it is contradictory and vague. But this first scene in the great colloquy is plain. It has the din of arms, the movement of battalions and the disposition of forces with their generals. No one need feel any hesitation now, for we are face to face with ourselves. The weak man, or he who does not care for truth no matter where it leads, had better shut the book now. Unless he can go on reading the poem with the fixed intention of applying it to himself, it will do him no good whatever. He may say, however, that he will read it for what it may seem to contain, but if he reads to the end of time and does not fairly regard this first lecture, his knowledge gained further on will be no knowledge. It is indeed the book of the great mystery; but that problem was never solved for anyone; it must be settled and solved by


each one for himself. No doubt it was for this reason that Vyasa, to whom the poem is attributed, placed this conflict, in which the principal characters are Arjuna and Krishna, at the outset. It would have been easier to have made them sit down for a philosophical discourse beforehand in which reasons pro and con regarding any battle would be discussed, and then, after all that was done, to show us Arjuna, encouraged and equipped, entering upon the war sure of victory because he had spent much time in dispelling his doubts. But instead of doing this he pictures the impetuous Arjuna precipitating the battle before he had considered whom it was he had to fight.

It does not appear in the Bhagavad-Gita that Krishna had induced Arjuna, as was the case, to make the war for the purpose of regaining his kingdom. While stirring him up to it Krishna had wisely refrained from telling that which Arjuna finds out on the first day, that he had to oppose all these friends, kinsmen and preceptors. It was a wise reticence. If we completely apprehended the enormous power of our passions and various tendencies, most of us would throw up the fight in advance; for nothing would persuade us that any power within could withstand against


such overwhelming odds. For us then the incitement to fight is found, not so much in any conversation that we hold now with Krishna, but in the impulses which are carried across, again and again, from incarnation to incarnation.

We take up the gage over and over, life after life, in experience after experience, never completely defeated if we always look to Krishna―our higher self. And in the tale of Arjuna we find this also. For in a succeeding book, called Anugita, is an account of the hero walking with Krishna through the Palace of Maya. The battle over, for the time, Arjuna tells his friend that he has really forgotten much that he had told him (in the Bhagavad-Gita) and asks for a succinct repetition. This is given to him by the great warrior.

The palace of maya is this body of illusion, built up around us by desire. In our last birth we had all the advice given in this poem, and walking today through the palace, which sometimes seems so lovely, we now and then have reminiscences from the past. Sometimes we stoutly take up the fight; but surely, if we have listened to the guide aright, we will compel ourselves at last to carry it out until finished.


In coming to the conclusion of this first chapter, we reach the first abyss. It is not the great abyss, albeit it may seem to us, in our experience, to be the greatest. We are now vis-a-vis our own despair, and doubt its companion. Many a student of theosophy has in our own sight reached this point―all true students do. Like a little child who first ventures from the parent’s side, we are affrighted at what seems new to us, and dropping our weapons attempt to get away; but, in the pursuit of theosophy it is not possible to go back.

     Because the abyss is behind us.

There is in nature a law that operates in every department whether moral or physical, and which may now be called that of undulation and then that of inhibition; while at other times it reappears as vibration, and still again as attraction and repulsion, but all these changes are only apparent because at bottom it is the same. Among vegetables it causes the sap to flow up the tree in one way and will not permit it to return in the same direction. In our own blood circulation we find the blood propelled from the heart, and that nature has provided little valves which will not permit it to return to the heart by the way it came,


but by the way provided. Medical and anatomical science are not quite sure what it is that causes the blood to pass these valves; whether it is pressure from behind communicated by the heart, or the pressure by atmosphere from without which gently squeezes, as it were, the blood upon its way. But the occultist does not find himself limited by these empirical deductions. He goes at once to the center and declares that the impulse is from the heart and that that organ receives its impulse from the great astral heart or the akasa, which has been said by all mystics to have a double motion, or alternate vibration―the systole and diastole of nature.

So in this sense the valve in the circulation represents the abyss behind us that we cannot repass. We are in the great general circulation and compelled, whether we like it or not, to obey its forward impulse.

This place of dejection of Arjuna is also the same thing as is mentioned in Light on the Path as the silence after the storm. In tropical countries this silence is very apparent. After the storm has burst and passed, there is a quietness when the earth and the trees seem to have momentarily ceased making their familiar, manifold noises. They are obeying


the general law and beginning the process of assimilation.

And in the astral world it is just the same. When one enters there for the first time, a great silence falls, during which the regulated soul is imbibing its surroundings and becoming accustomed to them. It says nothing but waits quietly until it has become in vibration precisely the same as the plane in which it is; when that is accomplished then it can speak properly, make itself understood, and likewise understand. But the unregulated soul flies to that plane of the astral world in a disturbed state, hurries to speak before it is able to do so intelligibly and as a consequence is not understood, while it increases its own confusion and makes it less likely that it will soon come to understand. People are attracted to the astral plane; they hear of its wonders and astonishments and like a child with a new toy in sight they hurry to grasp it. They refuse to learn its philosophy because that seems dry and difficult. So they plunge in, and as Murdhna Joti said in a former article in this magazine, they then “swim in it and cut capers like a boy in a pool of water.”


     But for the earnest student and true disciple the matter is serious. He has vowed to have the truth at whatever cost, willing to go wherever she leads―even if it be to death.

So Krishna, having got Arjuna to where the battle has really begun, where retreat is not possible, begins to tell his loved disciple and friend what is the philosophy that underlies it all and without which success cannot be compassed.

We should not fail to observe at this point, that when Arjuna threw down his bow and arrows, the flying of missiles had already begun. We cannot say that when the philosophical discourse began between these two the opposing forces declared a truce until the mighty heroes should give the signal, because there is nowhere any verse that would authorize it, and we also can read in the accompanying books that all the paraphernalia of war had been brought onto the field and that the enemy would not desist, no matter what Arjuna might do. Now there is a meaning here, which is also a part of the great abyss the son of Pandu saw behind him, and which every one of us also sees.

We enter upon this great path of action in occultism mentally disposed towards final


victory. This mental attitude instantly throws all the parts of our being into agitation, during which the tendencies which are by nature antipathetic to each other separate and range themselves upon opposite sides. This creates great distress, with oftentimes wandering of the mind, and adds additional terror to our dark despair. We may then sink down and declare that we will fly to a forest―or as they did once in Europe, to a monastery―so as to get away from what seems to be unfavorable ground for a conflict. But we have evoked a force in nature and set up a current and vibration which will go on no matter what we do. This is the meaning of the “flying of arrows” even when Arjuna sat down on the bench of his chariot.

At this point of our progress we should examine our motive and desire.

It has been said in some theosophical writings of the present day, that a “spiritualized will” ought to be cultivated. As terms are of the highest importance we ought to be careful how we use them, for in the inner life they represent either genuine, regulated forces, or useless and abortive things that lead to nothing but confusion. This term “spiritualized will” leads to error, because in fact it has no


existence. The mistake has grown out of the constant dwelling on “will” and “forces” needed for the production of phenomena, as something the disciple should strive to obtain―whether so confessed or not― while the real motive power is lost sight of. It is very essential that we should clearly understand this, for if we make the blunder of attributing to will or to any other faculty an action which it does not have, or of placing it in a plane to which it does not belong, we at once remove ourselves far from the real knowledge, since all action on this plane is by mind alone.

The old Hermetic statement is: “Behind will stands desire,” and it is true.

     Will is a pure, colorless force which is moved into action by desire. If desire does not give a direction, the will is motionless; and just as desire indicates, so the will proceeds to execute.

But as there are countless wills of sentient beings constantly plying to and fro in our sphere, and must be at all times in some manner acting upon one another, the question arises: What is that sort of knowledge which shows how to use the will so that the effect of counteracting wills may not be felt? That knowledge is lost among the generality of men and is only instinctive here and there in


the world as a matter of karmic result, giving us examples of men whose will seems to lead them on to success, as Jay Gould and others.

Furthermore, men of the world are not desiring to see results which shall be in accord with the general will of nature, because they are wanting this and that for their own benefit. Their desire, then, no matter how strong, is limited or nullified: (1) by lack of knowledge of how to counteract other wills; (2) by being in opposition to the general will of nature without the other power of being able to act strongly in opposition to that too.

So it follows—as we see in practice in life―that men obtain only a portion of that which they desire.

The question next arises: Can a man go against the general will of nature and escape destruction, and also be able to desire wickedly with knowledge, and accomplish, through will, what he wishes?

Such a man can do all of these―except to escape destruction. That is sure to come, no matter at how remote a period.

He acquires extraordinary knowledge, enabling him to use powers for selfish purposes during immense periods of time, but at last the insidious effects of the opposition to the general


true will makes itself felt and he is destroyed forever.

This fact is the origin of the destruction-of-worlds myths, and of those myths of combats such as between Krishna and Ravana, the demon god, and between Durga and the demons.

For in other ages, as is to again occur in ages to come, these wickedly desiring people, having great knowledge, increase to an enormous extent and threaten the stability of the world. Then the adherents of the good law can no longer quietly work on humanity, but come out in force, and a fight ensues in which the black magicians are always destroyed, because the good adepts possess not only equal knowledge with the bad ones, but have in addition the great assistance of the general will of nature which is not in control of the others, and so it is inevitable that the good should triumph always. This assistance is also the heritage of every true student, and may be invoked by the real disciple when he has arrived at and passed the first abyss.

“And when the Great King of Glory saw the Heavenly Treasure of the Wheel, he sprinkled it with water and said: ‘Roll onward, O my Lord, the Wheel! O my Lord, go forth and overcome!’”



Chapter II

“And now, under the Lotus in the Heart, glows the lamp of the Soul. Protected by the gods who there stand guard, it sheds its soft rays in every direction. ”

A mighty spirit moves through the pages of the Bhagavad-Gita. It has the seductive influence of beauty; yet, like strength, it fills one as with the sound of armies assembling or the roar of great waters. Appealing alike to the warrior and the philosopher, it shows to the one the righteousness of lawful action, and to the other the calmness which results to him who has reached inaction through action. Schlegel, after studying the poem, pays tribute to it in these words: “ By the Brahmins, reverence of masters is considered the most sacred of duties. Thee therefore, first, most holy prophet, interpreter of the Deity, by whatever name thou wast called among mortals, the author of this poem, by whose oracles the mind is rapt with ineffable delight to doctrines lofty, eternal, and divine―thee first, I say, I hail, and shall always worship at thy feet.”

The second chapter begins to teach philosophy, but in such a way that Arjuna is led


on gradually step by step to the end of the dialogue; and yet the very first instructions from Krishna are so couched that the end and purpose of the scheme are seen at the beginning.

Although philosophy seems dry to most people, and especially to minds in the Western world who are surrounded by the rush of their new and quite undeveloped civilization, yet it must be taught and understood. It has become the fashion to some extent to scout careful study or practice and go in for the rapid methods inaugurated in America. In many places emotional goodness is declared to exceed in value the calmness that results from a broad philosophical foundation, and in others astral wonder seeking, or great strength of mind whether discriminative or not, is given the first rank. Strength without knowledge, and sympathetic tears without the ability to be calm―in fine, faith without works―will not save us. And this is one of the lessons of the second chapter.

The greatest of the ancients inculcated by both symbols and books the absolute necessity for the acquirement of philosophical knowledge, inasmuch as strength or special faculties


are useless without it. Those Greeks and others who recorded some of the wisdom of the elder Egyptians well illustrated this. They said, that in the symbols it was shown, as where Hermes is represented as an old and a young man, intending by this to signify that he who rightly inspects sacred matters ought to be both intelligent and strong, one of these without the other being imperfect. And for the same reason the symbol of the great Sphinx was established; the beast signifying strength, and the man wisdom. For strength when destitute of the ruling aid of wisdom, is overcome by stupid astonishment confusing all things together; and for the purpose of action the intellect is useless when it is deprived of strength. So, whether our strength is that of sympathy or of astral vision, we will be confounded if philosophical knowledge be absent.

But, so as not to be misunderstood, I must answer the question that will be asked, “Do you then condemn sympathy and love, and preach a cold philosophy only?” By no means. Sympathy and emotion are as much parts of the great whole as knowledge, but inquiring students wish to know all that lies in the path. The office of sympathy, charity, and all other


forms of goodness, so far as the effect on us is concerned, is to entitle us to help. By this exercise we inevitably attract to us those souls who have the knowledge and are ready to help us to acquire it also. But while we ignore philosophy and do not try to attain to right discrimination, we must pass through many lives, many weary treadmills of life, until at last little by little we have been forced, without our will, into the possession of the proper seeds of mental action from which the crop of right discrimination may be gathered.

Arjuna asks Krishna:

“As I am of a disposition which is affected by compassion and the fear of doing wrong, my mind is bewildered. Tell me truly what may be best for me to do! I am thy disciple, wherefore instruct me in my duty, who am under thy tuition; for my understanding is confounded by the dictates of my duty, and I see nothing that may assuage the grief which drieth up my faculties, although I were to obtain a kingdom without a rival upon earth or dominion over the hosts of heaven. ”

Krishna, now the guru―or spiritual teacher―of Arjuna, makes a reply which is not excelled anywhere in the poem; pointing out the permanence and eternal nature of the soul, the progress it has to make through reincarnation to perfection, the error of imagining that we really do anything ourselves, and showing how


all duties must be performed by him who desires to reach salvation. The words used by the Blessed Lord in speaking of the soul cannot be added to by me. He says:

“The wise grieve not for dead or living. But never at any period did I, or thou, or these kings of men, not exist, nor shall any of us at any time henceforward cease to exist. As the soul in the body undergoes the changes of childhood, prime, and age, so it obtains a new body hereafter; a sensible man is not troubled about that. But the contact of the elements, O son of Kunti, which bring cold and heat, pleasure and pain, which come and go and are temporary, these do thou endure, O Bharata! (1) For that man whom, being the same in pain and pleasure and ever constant, these elements do not afflict, is fitted for immortality. There is no existence for what does not exist, nor is there any non-existence for what exists. . . . Know this, that that by which all this universe is created is indestructible. No one can cause the destruction of this inexhaustible thing*** He who believes that this spirit can kill, and he who thinks it can be killed, both of these are wrong in judgment. It is not born, nor dies at any time; it has no origin, nor will it ever have an end. Unborn, changeless, eternal both as to future and past time, it is not slain when the body is killed. How can that man, O son of Pritha, who knows that it is indestructible, constant, unborn, and inexhaustible, really cause the death of anybody or kill
(1) In this verse, the 14th, Krishna calls Arjuna by two names: first ― as son of Kunti (his mother), and second ― as Bharata (descendant of the mighty Bharata). He is reminded of his earthly origin in the beginning when reference is made to the elements that produce bodily sensations; and at the end, when adjured to endure these changes, his attention is directed to a great and powerful, spiritual, paternal ancestor. All of this is significant. ―B.


anybody himself? As a man abandons worn-out clothes and takes other new ones, so does the soul quit worn-out bodies and enter other new ones. Weapons cannot cleave it. Fire cannot burn it, nor can water wet it, nor wind dry it. . . . It is constant, capable of going everywhere, firm, immovable, and eternal. It is said to be invisible, incomprehensible, immutable. Therefore, knowing it to be such, thou art not right to grieve for it. ”

This is the same doctrine as is found in the Isavasya-Upanishad: The Identity of all Spiritual Beings, and Resignation. And by “spiritual beings” is meant all life above the inorganic, for man is not admitted to be material. There is only one life, one consciousness. It masquerades under all the different forms of sentient beings, and those varying forms with their intelligences mirror a portion of the One Life, thus producing in each a false idea of egoism. A continuance of belief in that false ego produces a continuance of ignorance, thus delaying salvation. The beginning of the effort to dissipate this false belief is the beginning of the Path; the total dissipation of it is the perfection of yoga, or union with God. The entry upon that Path cannot be made until resignation is consummated; for, as the Upanishad and the Bhagavad-Gita say:

“All this, whatsoever moves on earth, is to be surrendered to the Lord―the Self. When


thou hast surrendered all this; then thou mayest enjoy.”

If this be true, then how necessary to consider philosophy so as to be able to cut off the false belief. And how useless to pursue occultism merely for your own benefit. You may know all about currents and polarities, about any and every phenomenon possible in the astral world, but with the death of your body it is lost, leaving to you only the amount of real spiritual advance you happen to have made. But once resign and all is possible. This will not ruin your life nor destroy any proper ideals; poor and petty ideals had better be at once lost. It may seem that all ideals are gone, but that will be only the first effect of taking this step.

We must be ready to say at any moment under whatever circumstances, whether expected or unexpected: “It is just what I in fact desired.” For only those ideals can be dissipated which rest upon a lower basis than the highest aim, or which are not in accord with nature’s (God’s) law. And as our aim ought to be to reach the supreme condition and to help all other sentient beings to do so also, we must cultivate complete resignation to the Law, the expression and operation of which


is seen in the circumstances of life and the ebb and flow of our inner being. All that can be gotten out of wealth, or beauty, or art, or pleasure, are merely pools of water found along our path as it wanders through the desert of life. If we are not seeking them their appearance gives us intense pleasure, and we are thus able to use them for our good and that of others just so long as the Law leaves them to us; but when that superior power removes them, we must say: “It is just what I in fact desired.” Any other course is blindness. All the passing shows of life, whether fraught with disaster or full of fame and glory, are teachers; he who neglects them, neglects opportunities which seldom the gods repeat. And the only way to learn from them is through the heart’s resignation; for when we become in heart completely poor, we at once are the treasurers and disbursers of enormous riches. Krishna then insists on the scrupulous performance of natural duty. (1)
Some students, as well as critics, have said that theosophy teaches a running away from family and from the world, and that neither knowledge nor salvation can be gained without a ridiculous asceticism which would upset the natural order. This is wrong. And when it is believed to be a fact― now asserted be me in confidence of support from all real Theosophists―that the blessed Masters who ordered the founding of are Society constantly read and inculcate the Bhagavad-Gita’s philosophy, we perceive that such assertions against the Society’s aims are incorrect.―B


    “And considering thine own duty as a Kshatriya, thou art not right to waver. For there is nothing better for a Kshatriya than lawful war. ”

In order to see more clearly the occasion for his insistence upon performance of duty, we must remember that at the opening of the battle Arjuna “threw down his bow and arrows.” This, in India, meant that he then resolved to desert the circumstances in which karma had placed him and to become an ascetic, or, as has been frequently proposed by Western students, he wished to get away from a state of society which offered apparent obstruction to spiritual culture. But Krishna refers him to his birth in the Kshatriya―or warrior―caste, and to the natural duty of a Kshatriya, which is war. The natural caste of Arjuna might have been represented as that of merchant, but wisely it was not, for this is the book of action, and only a warrior fitly typifies action (1) ; so his natural duty will stand
(1) My opinion is that the Kshatriya caste is the greatest. The Brahmins, it is true, have always had more veneration paid them as being spiritual teachers and thus representing the head of Brahma; but in some of the Aryan sacrifices there is an occasion when the Kshatriya ranks the Brahmin. The latter are more the conservators of true doctrine; but when the time comes for the “gods to descend in order to establish a new harmony on earth,” they always begin with a warrior. Osiris who educated and solidified the Egyptians was a warrior, and the mysterious Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham, was prophet, priest, and king, that is ― warrior. Then, too, the warrior caste could learn and speak the Vedas as well as engage in war, whereas the Brahmin’s only duty was that of a teacher and not fighter. The Kshatriya therefore stands in the position of mediator between the action of the body of Brahma and the calm inaction of Brahma’s head.―B


for whatever be that of any man. We are not to shirk our karma; by abhorring it we only make new karma. Our only true course is to “let the motive for action be in the action itself, never in its reward; not to be incited to action by the hope of the result, nor yet indulge a propensity to inertness.” This advice and the direction to see the one Spirit in all things and all things in It ( ch. xiii) express the gist of the Bhagavad-Gita’s teaching as to the proper attitude to be assumed by those striving after salvation.

In verse 40 Krishna alludes to this system as being one of initiation:

    “In this no initiation is lost, nor are there any evil consequences, and even a little of this practice saves from great danger; there is no destruction of nor detriment to one’s efforts.

Although not proclaimed in the newspapers nor advertised here and there through Secretaries, Delegates, and “Doors,” this is the mother and the head of all systems of initiation. It is the progenitor of the mystic Rosicrucians, who have adopted the lotus and changed it into a rose (1) , and all the other hun-
(1) The probability is that the Rosicrucian “rose” was altered from the lotus because the latter flower was not understood in Europe, whereas the rose was; and the rose is the nearest to the lotus, taken all in all. In Japan the lotus in the heart is adhered to; they say that by directing attention to the heart, it is found to burst open into a lotus of eight petals, in each of which resides one power, while in the center sits the lord of all.―B


dreds of initiating occult societies are merely faint and incomplete copies of this real one; but, unlike those, it has never dissolved. It is secret, because, founded in nature and having only real Hierophants at the head, its privacy cannot be invaded without the real key. And that key, in each degree, is the aspirant himself. Until that aspirant has become in fact the sign and the key, he cannot enter the degree above him. As a whole then, and in each degree, it is self-protective.

Thus including all other systems, it is the most difficult of all; but as at some time, in this life or in a succeeding age, we must perforce enter this Lodge, the attempt at entry might as well be made at once. Of this we will speak in our next.


    In my last I said that a system of initiation is spoken of which is the mother of all others, and that all the rest are mere exoteric copies or perversions of the real. In order that the idea intended to be expressed may be made clear, it is to be stated that the system is not confined to India, but at the same time it is true that the Western world has up to this time been so deeply engaged in the pursuit of mere money and external enjoyment that no body


of Hierophants has taken up its actual residence in Europe or America as yet. There is very little force in the objection that, if those Adepts have such powers as have been ascribed to them, they could very easily have a residence here and overcome all the influences of the place. If it were in the least necessary that they should be here, no doubt can there be that they would come. But as all of the work required to be done, all that could possibly be accomplished, is to be achieved by the messengers sent out into each country who, so to say, prepare the ground, with the assistance of the Adepts, for others who follow them, there would be a waste of energy if the Hierophants appeared in person. Nor are those messengers dismayed by the critical attitude of those persons who, wanting a sign, continually deny that the help for the workers is afforded because the givers of it cannot be seen; and it can also be admitted that even the workers themselves are not continually in receipt of instruction or telegrams showing how and where to work. They are men and women who possess a faith that carries them through a long course of effort without a glimpse of those who have sent them. Yet at the same time some of them now and then see very plain


evidence of the fact that they are constantly assisted.

“That we all labor together transmitting the same
charge and succession,

We few equals indifferent of lands, indifferent of

We, enclosers of all continents, all castes, allowers
of all theologies,

Compassionaters, perceivers, rapport of men,
We walk silent among disputes and assertions, but
reject not the disputers: nor anything that is asserted,
We hear the bawling and din, we are reached at by
divisions, jealousies, recriminations on every side,

They close peremptorily upon us to surround us, my
Yet we walk unheld, free, the whole earth over,
journeying up and down till we make our ineffaceable
mark upon time and the diverse eras,

Till we saturate time and eras, that the men and
women of races, ages to come, may prove brethren
and lovers as we are.”

So all this preparation is similar to that of the primeval forest by the early settlers in America; it is as yet hardly a tilling of the soil, but rather a clearing off of trees and weeds. This is not because they are unable to do more, but because the weeds and trees are there requiring to be removed before the Elder Ones can usefully push on in person the further development.


    “When the materials are all prepared and ready the architects shall appear.”

All human beings are working through this system of initiation, and for that reason it includes all the exoteric societies. Very often the Masters in this have appeared in those when they saw an opportunity for sowing the seed, which, although for a time to be enclosed in the shell of formalism, was to be preserved for future use; just as the Egyptian mummy held in its hand for centuries the germ that blossomed and bore fruit in our day. And since man in all his struggles must be helped, they have assisted in political changes where a hope was held out for the rise of a beneficent era. (1) The great mass of men are not with their own knowledge engaged in the work of this powerful and impregnable Lodge, but they will knowingly engage therein at some point in the course of their long evolution. And yet at every hour of each day these Masters are willing and anxious to meet those who are clear-eyed enough to see their true destiny, and noble-hearted so as to work for “the great orphan, humanity.”
(1)  It has been asserted by some theosophical writer that these adepts were concerned in the formation of the AmericanRepublic, and either were here in person or sent messengers.―B


    Then, further, none of us, and especially those who have heard of the Path or of Occultism or of the Masters, can say with confidence that he is not already one who has passed through some initiations with knowledge of them. We may be already initiated into some higher degree than our present attainments would suggest, and are undergoing a new trial unknown to ourselves. It is better to consider that we are, being sure to eliminate all pride of that unknown advance we have made. Having so concluded, we know that this long life is in itself another initiation, wherein we succeed or fail just as we learn the lesson of life. Some, I know, will not hasten to adopt this view, for they desire the Law to work in the manner appointed by them; they wish to have a sign or a password or a parchment or some wonderful test propounded, to which they shall be ready to submit at a certain time and place. But this is not the manner of it, and all true students know that. Surely if the little circumstances of life are not understood, if they have yet power to light the torch of anger or blow up the smoldering fire of lust, no set time or tournament will be offered for you by the Masters of this Lodge. Those set times and larger tests are given and have in their


place to be overcome, but they belong to the day when you have raised the arch of attainment all perfect but the keystone―that is found or lost in the appointed trial.

Reaching to the actual door of this Lodge is the Path that I spoke of in my last, and leading to that Path are many roads. We might as well attempt to enter the Path in this incarnation as to wait for succeeding lives.

There is great encouragement in Krishna’s words to Arjuna in the second chapter:  In this system there is no destruction of or detriment to one’s efforts; even a very small portion of this duty delivereth a man from great fear.

This refers to the law of karma. Every point of progress gained is never in reality lost. Even did we die at a time when our lives were not stainless, the real level of our development would not be lowered, for upon reassuming a mortal body in some after life on this earth we take up the thread just where we dropped it. In a later chapter  Krishna says that we come in contact with the knowledge which belonged to us in our former body, and from that time we struggle more diligently toward perfection. Patanjali also says the same thing, and all the Aryan


sacred books concur in the opinion. (1)The thoughts and aspirations of our life form a mass of force that operates instantly upon our acquirement of a body that furnishes the corresponding instrument, or upon our so altering our mental state as to give it opportunity for action. The objection that this would be a suspension of energy is not tenable, since such a thing is well known in the physical world, even if called by some other name. We are not obliged to rest on that objection, as it by no means follows that the energy is suspended; it has its operation in other ways.

The encouragement given by Krishna leads us to consider what method is offered for entering upon the Path. We find it to be a right knowledge of the spirit. This right knowledge is found in the second chapter.

As by all illuminated sages, the ultimate truth is first declared by the Blessed Lord as we have seen, and in the very chapter wherein right action is insisted upon as the way to liberation. He then, proceeding to explain himself further, points out errors common to humanity, and certain false views that prevailed in India then, as they do now.
(1) See Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms, Book 2; and Vishnu-Smriti, chap. xcvii, v. 11.


    Verse 41:―In this system there is only one single object of a steady, constant nature, O son of Kuru. Those who do not persevere, and whose principles are indefinite, have objects with many ramifications and without end.

In the men thus described, desires for worldly or intellectual acquisitions prevail and, desires being infinite as also capable of producing endless modifications of desire, there is no concentration possible. This also has an application to the methods of our present scientific schools, which indulge in an eternal seeking for so-called facts before general principles are admitted. One single branch of investigation with them has endless ramifications that no human being could compass in a lifetime. Then: ―

Not disposed to meditation and perseverance is the intention of those who are devoted to enjoyments and dominion, and whose minds are seduced by that flowery sentence which is proclaimed by the unwise, who delight in texts from the Vedas, O son of Pritha, and say, “There is nothing else than that,” being covetous-minded and considering heaven as the very highest good; offering rebirth as the reward of actions, and enjoining many special ceremonies for the sake of obtaining pleasures and dominion, and preferring the transient enjoyment of heaven to eternal absorption.

This is better understood when some of the


ideas held in India regarding sacrifices and ceremonies are known. In the Occident sacrifices have long gone out of use, as there appeared to be no reason for them. And yet it must seem strange to the reflective mind that Christian nations should claim redemption through the Jews whose prophet enjoined sacrifices, and when Jesus himself said that not one jot or tittle of the law should pass away. In the place of the sacrifices of the East, the West has adopted a mere theory to be embraced, together with an uncertain moral code to be followed, with a result which is the same as that claimed by the Hindus―save only in one respect. That difference lies in the doctrine of reincarnation. The Christian looks for an eternal reward in heaven and knows nothing of reincarnation on earth, while the Hindu relies upon pleasure to be had in heaven―called Svarga―and a continuation of it upon earth by reason of a fortunate rebirth. They have special ceremonies, certain sorts of sacrifices, penances, prayers, and actions, the result of which is a rebirth on earth in a royal family, or with great riches, or in any other sort of pleasant circumstances; and also a sure admittance to heaven. Some ceremonies procure entrance into a delightful state after


death which will last for incalculable periods of time.

Now no one of these sorts of procedure leads us to the ultimate, but all are causes of karma and of delusion: therefore Krishna did not approve them to Arjuna. And his warning is useful to theosophists who are students or wish to become such. With them the false view warned against by Krishna has altered itself into a craving for phenomena, or to perform some action that shall bring them the favor of Mahatmas, or a morbid fear of making karma, or else an equally accentuated desire to acquire good karma. They should abandon those attitudes and carefully study the following verses, trying to incorporate their true meaning into their very being.

The subject of the three Vedas is the assemblage of the three qualities. O Arjuna! be thou free from these three qualities, from the ordinary influence of the natural opposites, reposing on eternal truth, free from worldly anxieties, self-possessed* * *Let, then, the motive for action be in the action itself, never in its event. Be not one whose motive for action is the hope of reward. Let not thy life be spent in inaction. Depend upon concentration, perform thy duty, abandon all thought of the consequence, and make the event equal to thee, whether it terminate in good or evil; for such an equanimity is called Yoga (union with God). By far inferior to union with wisdom is action.


Seek an asylum, then, in wisdom alone; for the miserable and unhappy are so on account of the event of things. Men who are endued with true wisdom dismiss, by means of this concentration, alike successful and unsuccessful results. Study then to obtain this concentration of thy understanding, for such concentration is a precious art.

Wise men, who have abandoned all thought of the fruit which is produced from their actions, are freed from the chains of birth in this world, and go to the regions of eternal happiness.

When thy reason shall get the better of the gloomy weakness of thy heart, then shalt thou have obtained all knowledge which has been or is to be taught. When thy understanding, by study brought to maturity, shall be fixed immovably in contemplation, then shall it obtain true wisdom.

The first portion of this paper was designedly enlarged in order to precede the above. The last quoted verses contain the essence of what is called Karma-yoga, or, as it might be translated, concentration and contemplation while engaged in action. It is difficult, just as it is difficult to enter upon the Path, and if we desire to tread that aright we must know what we should do as true travelers. Krishna seems to me to here settle the dispute as to whether faith or works will save us. Mere faith will not do it, because in every act of faith there is some action. And it would appear to be impossible to acquire true faith without at once turning it into that sort of


action which our faith shows us must be done, as it were, in evidence; yet action, pure and simple, will not be a cause of liberation, inasmuch as action, or karma, will produce new karma. We must therefore seek for concentration in order that we may be able to do those actions which the All-Wise presents to us to be done, remaining the while unaffected. We have nothing to do with the results; they will come of themselves, and are beyond us; they are already done so far as we are concerned. But if we perform either an act of faith or an action of the body, hoping for any result―no matter what―we become to that extent attached to the consequences, and thus bound by them. It matters not whether those consequences be good or bad. Many will think that it is well to have attachment to good consequences, since that has been the received opinion. But this is unwise, because the only reason for it is found in the idea that thereby one is somewhat better than some other persons who are enamored of evil results and desire to see them come to pass. This idea produces separateness, and is opposed to that identity without the realization of which there can be no true knowledge. We should therefore be imitators of the Deity, who, while


acting as he does in the manifestation of universes, is at the same time free from all consequences. To the extent that we do so we become the Deity himself, for, as we follow the dictates of the Lord who dwells in us, we resign every act upon the altar, leaving the consequences to him.

The attitude to be assumed, then, is that of doing every act, small and great, trifling or important, because it is before us to do, and as a mere carrying out by us as instruments of the will of that Deity who is ourself. Nor should we stop to inquire whether the act is of any use to the Lord within (1), as some ask. For, they say, of what possible benefit to him can be the small hourly acts which, as soon as done, are forgotten? It is not for us to inquire. The act that pleases that Lord is the act which is done as presented with no attachment to its result, while the act that is unpleasing to him is the one which we do, desiring some result therefrom.

This practice is the highest; that which some day we must and will learn to perform. Other sorts are inculcated in other writings, but they are only steps to lead us at last to this. There-
(1) Isvara, the particular manifestation of Brahman in each human being. ―B


fore I said, Let us enter the Path as soon as we can.


    We are still on the second chapter. If my object were merely to skim through the poem, showing where it agreed with, differed from, or reconciled the various systems of philosophy that were followed in India, we could have long ago reached the end of the book. But we are looking at it in one of its aspects―the one most important for all earnest students―the personal interior view that aids us to reach Moksha(1)  From this standpoint we can easily defer a consideration of the philosophical discussion to a later period.

Let us take up some of the instruction given in the portion of the second chapter just finished. The remainder of the lecture is devoted to a reply from Krishna to Arjuna’s question as to what is the description, appearance, carriage, and conversation of the man who has attained to steady meditation.

Krishna says that “the subject of the three Vedas is the assemblage of the three qualities.” These three qualities are sattva, rajas, and tamas, and are separately treated in a succeeding chapter. Now sattva-guna (2) is a pure,
(1) Salvation.
(2) Quality of truth or purity.


high quality, the opposite of tamas-guna which is darkness and indifference. Yet the remarkable advice is here given, “be thou free from these three qualities.” It is a very great wonder that this has not been pounced upon before as showing that Krishna directs his follower to renounce the quality of goodness, and thus directly encourages wickedness, but as that is immediately followed by the direction to “repose upon eternal truth,” possible critics have been perhaps deterred by the seeming paradox. It is evident at once that a higher sort of sattva is referred to in the words “eternal truth.” Sattva is the Sanskrit for truth, and is not qualified when its place among the three qualities is given, so that, when the disciple frees himself from this ordinary sattva, he is to take refuge in its eternal counterpart. Further, the instruction is not to renounce truth or either of the other two qualities, but to remain freed from the influence or binding force that any sort of quality has upon the human ego.

It is difficult for a great being such as Krishna to convey to the inquiring mind these high themes, and so, perforce, language must be used that forever has two meanings―it continually retreats before us, going from one


to the other. “Sattwa” ―truth ― had to be taken to express the highest quality of any being who possesses them, and yet, when we begin to speak of the highest conceivable state in which attributes are absent, we still use the same word, only adding to it eternal.

The essence of the instruction given by Krishna is to become devoted, as he says, “Therefore give thyself up to devotion.” He prepared the way for that by showing, as adverted to in the last article, how erroneous it was to follow even the special ceremonies and texts laid down for the people in the Vedas. Those ceremonies procured either rewards in heaven, or upon the earth during subsequent lives as well as in those in which the ceremonies were performed. We can more easily understand what Krishna meant if we will suppose him to be referring to a doctrine that in those days was precisely similar in its scheme of rewards to the old-fashioned Christian belief that, by following the Scriptures, one secured happiness and prosperity on earth and great bliss forever in heaven with the saints. This is declared by him to be a deluding doctrine. He does not say that the rewards as laid down will not follow the practice, but implies that they will. But as


the wheel of rebirth will eternally revolve, drawing us inevitably back to a mortal body, we are continually deluded and never succeed in attaining to God―that being the goal for us all.

Heaven, whether it be that of the Christian or of the Hindu, is what Buddha called a thing or state that has a beginning and will have an end. It may, surely, last aeons of time, but it will come to an end, and then the weary task of treading the world―whether this or some other one―has to be recommenced. Hence Krishna said that men were deluded by those flowery sentences proclaiming a means of reaching heaven, than which there was nothing better.

Doubtless there are many students who, believing in the possibility of reaching heaven, say that they are willing to take the risk of what may happen after the enjoyment for such a long period is ended. But those risks would not be taken were they well understood. They are numerous and great. Many of them cannot be stated, because, in order to be understood at all, more must be known of the power of mind and the real meaning of meditation. But the ordinary risks are found in what we


may roughly, for the present, call delayed karma and unspent affinities.

The power of these two has its root in the vast complexity of man’s nature. Such is its complexity that a man cannot, as a complete being, ever enjoy heaven or any state short of union with the divine. Learned theosophists talk of a man’s going to devachan, and of his being here on earth suffering or enjoying karma, when as a fact only a small part of him is either here or there. When he has lived out his life and gone to devachan, the vast root of his being stands waiting in the One Life, waiting patiently for him to return and exhaust some more karma. That is, in any one life the ordinary man only takes up and exhausts what karma his bodily apparatus permits. Part of the power of karma is in the “mysterious power of meditation,” which exhibits itself according to the particular corporeal body one has assumed. So the man may in this life perform “special ceremonies” and conform to texts and doctrine, attaining thereby the reward of heaven, and still have left over a quantity of that “mysterious power of meditation” unexpended; and what its complexion is he does not know. Its risk therefore is that it may be very bad, and, when he


does return from heaven, his next body may furnish the needed apparatus to bring up to the front this mass of unexpended karma, and his next compensation might be a sojourn in hell.

In reassuming a body, the “mysterious power” spoken of reaches out to numberless affinities engendered in other lives, and takes hold of all that come in its reach. Other beings once known to the man arrive into incarnation at the same time, and bring into action affinities, attractions, and powers that can only act through them and him. Their influence cannot be calculated. It may be good or bad, and, just as he is swayed by them or as his sway the other being, so will work out the karma of each. Krishna therefore advises Arjuna to be free from the influence of the quality, so that he may obtain a complete release. And that freedom can only be attained, as he says, by means of devotion.

These effects, divergencies and swaying, are well known to occultists, and, although the idea is very new in the West, it is not unknown in India. This law is both an angel of mercy and a messenger of justice, for, while we have just stated its operation as among the risks,


it is also a means whereby nature saves men often from damnation.

Suppose in some life long past I had a dear friend, or wife, or relative, with whom my intimacy was interior and deep. Death separates us, and in subsequent lives he devotes himself to truth, to wisdom, to the highest in him, while I go on careless of all but pleasure in the present. After many lives we meet again as either friends or acquaintances. At once the old intimacy asserts itself, and my former friend ― although maybe neither of us knows it―has a strange power to touch my inward life, and wakes me up to search for truth and my own soul. It is the unexpended affinity, and by its aid nature works my salvation.

Then we should both seek devotion. This devotion is what is inculcated by the Adepts to their chelas. It involves a mental abnegation not agreeable to our modern mind, but that must be acquired or real progress is impossible. We must by means of this mental devotion to the divine, which means abnegation of all the rest, dismiss all results of our actions. It is not ours to say what shall be the result of an action; the Law will bring about a result much better, perhaps, than we had imagined. If the results, if the


 passing daily circumstances, are not those we expected, then by means of devotion we accept them as just what the Law intended. But if we fix our desire on accomplishing even a seeming good result, we are bound by that desire, no matter whether our wish is accomplished or not.

This exhortation to devotion is at once the most simple and the most difficult. Some deride it because they want powers and “development”; others because they think it too simple; but the wise student, even when he cannot at first grasp its meaning, will revolve it in his mind, strive after it, and make it a thing to be attained by him.


We have seen that devotion must be attained by that student― who desires to reach enlightenment. This is what is meant by Krishna’s reply to Arjuna, at the conclusion of the second chapter.

“When he has put away all desires which enter the heart, and is satisfied by the Self in himself, he is then said to be confirmed in spiritual knowledge. ”

It is not possible to be wholly given up to the dictates of the Spirit while any desires that come into the heart are permitted to engross the attention.


    Of course the person described here is one who has gone much higher in development than most of us have been able to. But we ought to set up a high ideal at which to aim, for a low one gives a lower result at the expense of the same effort. We should not put before us an aim less than the highest merely because it seems that our success will not be as great as we think it ought to be. It is not so much the clearly perceived outward result that counts, as the motive, effort, and aim, for judgment is not passed upon us among the things of sense where human time exists, but in that larger sphere of being where time ceases, and where we are confronted by what we are and not by what we have done. That which we have done touches us only in mortal life among the delusions of material existence; but the motives with which we live our lives go to make up our greater being, our larger life, our truer self. Do actions we must, for no mortal can live without performing actions; those bring us back to earth for many weary incarnations, perhaps to final failure, unless the lesson is learned that they must be done with the right motive and the true aim. That stage reached, they affect us no more, for, like Krishna, we become the perfect performers


of all action. And in so far as we purify and elevate the motive and the aim, we become spiritually enlightened, reaching in time the power to see what should be done and what refrained from.

Many would-be occultists leave out of sight this chapter’s teaching. Devotion has no charms for them; they leave it to those who would be good men, no matter what their creed or philosophy, and attention is paid to reading books, either new or old, upon magic, upon ceremonial, or any other of the manifold delusions. Nor is this erroneous practice newly risen. It was common among the alchemists, and the result in some cases is that students now waste valuable years in mastering ceremonial, Rosicrucianism, talismanic lore, and what not, as laid down in the books, while all of it is either useless mental lumber or positively dangerous.

I do not mean it to be understood that there never was real Rosicrucianism, or that ceremonial magic yields no results, or that there is no science of talismans. There are realities of which these, as now known, are shadows. But we might as well expect to find the soul by attentively studying the body, as to know the truths behind the influence of talismans or


ceremonial magic by studying the books now extant upon those subjects. The mediæval so-called magicians have left a mass of writings that are now a delusion and a snare for students, theosophical and nontheosophical. In these are minute directions for various sorts of practices, but they are all the attempts of men to enable mortals, by methods altogether outward, to control the astral or natural world. Success did not come to these practitioners, nor will much else save failure be the portion of those of our own day who follow their directions. In most cases of the old European so-called sorcerers and writers on magic, their published lucubrations are only salves to disappointed vanity; in the rest, mere reduplications of formulae left by their predecessors. Paracelsus positively declares that true magic is within the man — a part of his inner nature, potential at first, active after development, and that ceremonies or formulae are the veriest rubbish unless the person using them is himself a magician.

In the practice of ceremonial magic, where certain geometrical and other figures are to be used with the aid of prayers and invocations, there lies positive danger. This danger is increased if the student follows the practice


for the sake of gain or glory or power or mere wonder seeking ―all of these being selfish. In this ceremonial the operator, or self-styled magus, surrounds himself with a circle or an arrangement of triangles, the use and purpose of which are to protect him from whatever sprites he may arouse. Mark that well! It is for protection. Protection of this sort would not be needed or thought of unless a fear lurked inside that the shades or demons had power to hurt. So at the outset, fear, the product of ignorance, is fully present. The next important thing to be noted is that a sword has to enter into the conjuration. This is advised because the demons are said to fear sharp steel. Now Jesus said that he who lived by the sword should perish by the sword. By this he meant just what we are talking about. Ceremonial magic involves at almost every step the use of a sword. After the invocator or magus has used the ceremonial, say with success, for some time, he at last creates within his aura, or what Swedenborg called his sphere, a duplicate of what he had previously used and pictured on the floor or walls. In this he is no longer master, for, it being placed in that part of his nature of which he is ignorant, the sword of metal be-


comes an astral sword with the handle held by the demons or influences he unwisely raised. They then attack him where no defense can be interposed―on the astral and mental planes, and, just as surely as the wise man’s words were uttered, he at last perishes by the weapon he himself used. This danger, thus roughly outlined, is no mere figment of the brain. It is positive, actual, immanent in the practice. No book study will give a man the power to make the constitutional changes, as well as psychical alterations, needed before he is commander of immaterial forces. But these latter may be temporarily evoked and made acquainted with us by pursuing certain methods. That is the beginning. Their turn is sure to come, and, obeying a law of their nature, they take what has sometimes been called their “revenge.” For all such practices call only upon the lower, unspiritual part of our nature, and that clothes such beings with corresponding attributes. Their “revenge” consists in bringing on inflammations in the moral character which will eventuate in a development of evil passions, atrophy of concentration, destruction of memory, ending at last in a miserable conclusion to life, and almost total failure to use the opportunities for progress


presented by that incarnation. Therefore I said, it is all either useless mental lumber or positively dangerous.

In history and in our own experience there is abundant evidence that the Bhagavad-Gita is right in saying “spiritual knowledge includes every action without exception,” and that it is to be attained by means of devotion. Ignorant men who had no access to books have by their inward sense perceived the real truth of things, not only those round about them, but relating to the larger concerns of nature. Jacob Boehme was wholly unlettered, but he knew the truth. His writings show an acquaintance, not to be then gained from books, with the true doctrines found in the Hindu scriptures and secret books. In Germany today are men known to me, who, more unlearned yet than Jacob Boehme was, know many things still mysteries for our learned theosophists who can boast of college education. The reason is that these men have attained to devotion, and thereby cleared away from before the eye of the soul the clouds of sense whose shadows obscure our view of truth. I do not decry or despise learning; it is a great possession; but if the learned man were also a devoted one in the sense of the Bhaga-


vad-Gita, how much wider would be the sweep of his intellection no one could calculate.

Learning of the human sort is not despised among the highest occultists, even among the adepts. They use it and acquire it. They accumulate the record of the experiences of seers and devoted men of small learning for long periods of time, until a great master of both learning and devotion arises who, by reason of his profound knowledge joined to devotion, can make the wonderful deductions in the possession of the Lodge respecting matters so far beyond us that they can with difficulty be imagined. But this again proves that devotion is the first and best, for these extraordinary Masters would not appear unless devotion had been the aim of their existence.

Without devotion a vast confusion arises within us that has been likened by some to a whirling motion, by others to the inrushing, overpowering flow of turbid waters. Boehme calls it in some aspects the turba. It is the delusion produced by the senses. And so Krishna, in closing the second lecture, says:

“Let a man, restraining all these, remain in devotion when at rest, and intent on me alone; for he whose senses are under his control possesses spiritual knowledge. Attachment to objects of sense arises in a man who meditates upon them; from attachment arises desire; from desire passion springs up; from passion comes bewilderment; from bewilderment, confusion of the memory; from confusion of the memory, destruction of the intellect; from destruction of the intellect he perishes.

But he who approaches the objects of sense with senses free from love and hate and beneath his own control, having his soul well-disposed, attains to tranquility of thought. In this tranquillity there springs up in him a separation from all troubles. For the mind of him whose thoughts are tranquil soon becomes perfect in concentration. ”

A very beautiful portion of the Sanatsujatiya  may be read with profit here. (1)

“Some say, that freedom from death results from action; and others that death exists not. Hear me explain, O King! have no misgiving about it.

“Both truths, O Kshatriya, have been current from the beginning. The wise maintain what is called delusion to be death. I verily call heedlessness death, and likewise I call freedom from heedlessness immortality. Through heedlessness, verily, were the demons vanquished; and through freedom from heedlessness the gods attained to the Brahman. Death, verily, does not devour living creatures like a tiger; for, indeed, his form is not to be perceived. Heedlessness develops in men
(1) Sanatsujatiya   Ch. 2.


as desire, and afterwards as wrath, and in the shape of delusion. And then traveling in devious paths through egoism, one does not attain to union with the Self Those who are deluded by it, and who remain under its influence, depart from this world, and there again fall down [into generation]. Then the deities [i.e. the senses] gather around them. And then they undergo death after death. Being attached to the fruit of action, on action presenting itself, they follow after it, and do not cross beyond death. And the embodied self, in consequence of not understanding union with the real entity, proceeds on all hands with attachment to enjoyments. That, verily, is the great source of delusion to the senses: for by contact with unreal entities, his migrations are rendered inevitable; because, having his inner self contaminated by contact with unreal entities, he devotes himself to objects of sense on all sides, pondering on them only. That pondering, verily, first confuses him; and soon afterwards desire and wrath attack him. These lead children to death. But sensible men cross beyond death by their good sense. He who, pondering on the Self, destroys the fugitive objects of sense, not even thinking of them through contempt for them, and who, being possessed of knowl-


edge, destroys desires in this way, becomes, as it were, the death of Death itself, and swallows it up.”

The second chapter ends with a declaration of what is the sort of death that results in union with the divine, preventing absolutely any return to incarnations upon earth. It is found in the sentences:

“That man who, casting off all desires, acts without attachment to results, free from egotism and selfishness, attains to tranquility. This is the condition of the Supreme Being, O son of Pritha! Having obtained this, one is not troubled; and remaining in it, even at the time of death, he passes on to extinction (or union with) the Supreme Spirit. ”

Those are the last words of the second chapter.

Any other mental attitude at the time of passing away will surely cause us to acquire a mortal body again.

Krishna’s declaration brings up before us, not only the practices previously inculcated, but also the whole subject of death. For, in order to know how to “think of Him at the moment of death,” or to have that tranquility which only perfection of devotion confers, we must find out what death is, and whether it is solely what we see going on at the decease


of a human being, or more than can be gauged with the eye. A little reflection shows that what is seen and noted by physicians and spectators is but the withdrawal of the soul and energy from the outer envelope called “body.” While that is going on, the person may accept rites of the church or profess adherence to any sort of doctrine whatever, even with his last outward sigh speak of heaven with its bliss awaiting him. But that is only the first step. It leaves his visible features calm and happy, perhaps, in expression; his relatives close his eyes — they call it death. He, however, has only begun to die. The soul has yet to pass through other envelopes beyond the ken of friends, beyond even the dying man’s present control. All now depends upon the whole course and kind of thought in which he indulged during the life of the body. For the soul has to pass along the road by which it came, and that way is lined with the memories of a lifetime; as these memories rise up they affect the departing entity, causing it to be either disturbed from concentration on the Supreme Being, or assisting to a greater perfection. If, then, some few years only near the close of life were devoted to the sort of practice inculcated by Krishna, the memories


of the years previously spent in following after desires will throw a cloud over the soul and absolutely prevent it from attaining that state from which return to earth is impossible without our consent. It is more perfectly illustrated by considering life as a grand musical movement that is brought to a close by using at once all the tones sounded throughout the whole preceding portion. The result will be a combined sound, expressing neither the highest nor lowest notes, or the sweetest or less sweet, but the resultant of all. And this last sound is the fixed vibration that governs the entity, sounding all through him, and throwing him into the state to which it corresponds or of which it is the key. Thus it is easily seen that in each thought lie the possibilities of a harmony or a discord for life’s conclusion.

“Guided by the clear light of the soul, we have considered thy teachings, O holy sage! They have been efficacious for the removal of the obscurities surrounding Ishwara’s abiding place in us; we are delighted and refreshed; may thy words remain with us, and, as a spring refreshes the earth, may we be refreshed by them!”



Chapter III

The first two verses of this chapter express a doubt arising in Arjuna’s mind, and contain a request for its solution and for a method by which he may attain perfect knowledge — salvation. They are:

“If, according to thy opinion, O thou who givest all that men ask! the use of the understanding be superior to the practice of deeds, why then dost thou urge me to engage in an undertaking so dreadful as this?

Thou, as it were, confoundest my reason with a mixture of sentiments; with certainty declare one method by which I may obtain happiness, and explain it unto me.”

The doubt arose because the Blessed Lord had declared that Arjuna must reach salvation by the right use of his understanding, and yet also must perform the dreaded act of opposing, perhaps slaying, his friends, tutors, and relatives. The request is the same as is repeated nearly every day by serious students and for which an answer is demanded. (1) It is
(1) See Lucifer of April and May, 1888, in articles “Practical Occultism” and “Occultism and the Occult Arts.” ―(Ed.) Both these articles were reprinted in the Magazine Theosophy in Jan. 1913, issue.―( Publishers.)


for one single method, one practice, one doctrine, by means of which the student may obtain that for which he seeks, whether he has formulated it as happiness or only as a thirst for wonderful knowledge and power.

Arjuna’s doubt is the one which naturally arises in one who for the first time is brought face to face with the great duality of nature―or of God. This duality may be expressed metaphysically by the words thought and action, for these mean in this the same as ideation and expression. Brahman, as the unmanifested God, conceives the idea of the Universe, and it at once expresses itself in what is called creation by the Christian and by the scientist evolution. This creation or evolution is the action of God. With him there is no difference in time between the arising of the idea and its expression in manifested objects. Coming down to consider the “created” objects, or the planes on which the thought of God has its expression through its own laws, we find the duality expressed by action and reaction, attraction and repulsion, day and night, outbreathing and inbreathing, and so on. When face to face with these, one is first confused by the multiplicity of objects, and we strive to find one simple thing,


some law or doctrine, practice, dogma, or philosophy, by which, being known, happiness can be secured.

Although there is one single Vehicle, to use a Buddhist term, yet it cannot be grasped in the beginning by the student. He must pass through sufficient experience to give him a greater consciousness before he can understand this one Vehicle. Could that unique law be understood by the beginner, could it be possible to lift us by one word to the shining heights of power and usefulness, it is certain that Those who do know would gladly utter the word and give us the sole method, but as the only possible way in which we can get true happiness is by becoming and not by intellectually grasping any single system or dogma, the guardians of the lamp of truth have to raise men gradually from stage to stage. It was in such an attitude Arjuna stood when he uttered the verses with which this chapter opens.(1)
It is to be noticed that Arjuna and Krishna constantly change the names by which they address each other. When Krishna is dwelling on one subject or upon something that has to do with a particular phase of Arjuna’s nature, he gives him some name that has reference to the quality, subject, or other matter referred to, and Arjuna changes the name of Krishna whenever he has need. As in these first verses, the name used for the Blessed Lord is Janardana, which means “giver of all that men ask” ―meaning thereby to refer to Krishna’s potency in bringing to fulfillment all wishes. ―B


    Krishna then proceeds to tell Arjuna that, it being impossible for one to remain in the world without performing actions, the right practice is to do those actions (duties of life whether in war or peace) which must be done, with a heart unattached to the result, being satisfied to do what is deemed the will of the Lord within, for no other reason than that it ought to be done. He sums it up in the words:

“But he who, restraining his senses by his heart, and being free from attachment to the results of action, undertakes active devotion through the organs of action, is worthy of praise. ”

This he illustrates by referring to those whom he calls “false pietists of bewildered soul,” who remain inert with their bodies, restraining the organs of action, while at the same time they ponder on objects of sense which they have merely quitted in form. He thus shows the false position that it is useless to abandon the outer field of action while the mind remains attached to it, for such mental attachment will cause the ego to incarnate again and again upon earth. A little further on in the chapter he refers to a great yogi, one Janaka, who, even while a saint possessed of perfect knowledge which he had obtained


while engaged in affairs of state, still performed actions.

These peculiar verses next occur:

“The creator, when of old he had created mortals and appointed sacrifice, said to them, “By means of this sacrifice ye shall be propagated. It shall be to you a cow of plenty. By means of it do ye support the gods, and let these gods support you. Supporting one another mutually, ye shall obtain the highest felicity. For, being nourished by sacrifices, the gods will give you the desired food. He who eats the food given by them without first offering some to them, is a thief indeed.”

At the outset I confess that these and succeeding verses do not appear easy to explain to Western minds. Although I have had some acquaintance with Occidental reasoning based on Occidental knowledge, it seems hopeless in the present century to elucidate much that is in this chapter. There are numerous points touched on by Krishna for which I find no response in Western thought. Among these are the verses on sacrifice. To say all I think about sacrifice would only expose me to a charge of madness, superstition, or ignorance; it certainly would on every hand be received with incredulity. And while sneers or disbelief have no terrors, it is needless to advert to certain points in the chapter. Yet in passing them by, some sadness is felt that a high civili-


zation should on these subjects be so dense and dark. Although Moses established sacrifices for the Jews, the Christian successors have abolished it both in spirit and letter, with a curious inconsistency which permits them to ignore the words of Jesus that “not one jot or tittle of the law should pass until all these things were fulfilled.” With the culmination of the dark age (1) it was, however, natural that the last vestige of sacrifice should disappear. On the ruins of the altar has arisen the temple of the lower self, the shrine of the personal idea. In Europe individualism is somewhat tempered by various monarchical forms of government which do not by any means cure the evil; and in America, being totally unrestrained and forming in fact the basis of independence here, it has culminated. Its bad effects ― vaguely as yet shadowing the horizon ―might have been avoided if the doctrines of the Wisdom-religion had been also believed in by the founders of the republic. And so, after the sweeping away of the fetters forged by priestly dogma and kingly rule, we find springing up a superstition far worse than that
(1) My readers may not agree with me that this is the dark age, inasmuch as that is the term applied to a period now past. That time, however, was a part of this; and this is even darker than that, as we think. ― B


which we have been used to call by the name. It is the superstition of materialism that bows down to a science which leads only to a negation.

There are, however, many willing minds here who have some intuition that after all there can be extracted from these ancient Hindu books more than is to be found if they are merely studied as a part of the lispings of infant humanity — the excuse given by Prof. Max Muller for translating them at all. It is to such natural theosophists I speak for they will see that, even while advancing so rapidly in material civilization, we need the pure philosophical and religious teachings found in the Upanishads.

The peculiar explanation of the Mosaic sacrifices advanced by the mystic, Count Saint-Martin (1), needs only a passing allusion. Students can think upon it and work out for themselves what truth it contains. He holds that the efficacy of the sacrifices rested in magnetic laws, for the priest, according to him, collected the bad effects of the sins of the people into his own person and then, by laying his hands upon the scapegoat (as in one sacrifice), communicated those deleterious in-
(1) See Man: His Nature and Destiny (1802). ―B


fluences to the poor animal who in the wilderness exhaled them so far away as not to affect the people. It is suggested that Moses knew something of occult laws, since he was educated by the Egyptians and initiated by them. But Saint-Martin goes on to say that the Jews were directed to kill even the animals in the land because the death of animals infected with the impure influences of those nations preserved the Jews from the poison; whereas in sacrifices the death of clean animals attracted wholesome preservative influences, [and that] pure and regular influences attached to certain classes and individuals of animals, and that by breaking the bases in which they are fixed they may become useful to man, and we should thus read Lev. xvii, 11: “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”

He then says that the virtue of sacrifices comes through the rapport that man has with animals and nature; and, if the Jews had observed the sacrifices faithfully, they would never have been abandoned, but would have drawn upon themselves every good thing they were capable of receiving* *The extraordinary holocausts at the three great festivals were to bring down upon the people such active influences as corresponded to the epochs, for we see bulls,


rams, and lambs always added to the burnt sacrifices *  * Some substances, mineral, vegetable, and animal, retain a greater proportion of the living and powerful properties of their first estate.

In these views Saint-Martin had some of the truth. But Moses ordained some sacrifices as a religious duty from sanitary reasons of his own, since the unthinking tribes would perform devotional acts willingly which, if imposed only as hygienic measures, they might omit. (1) The burnt offerings were, however, founded upon different views, very like those at the bottom of Hindu sacrifices, and the law of which is stated in these words from our chapter:

“Beings are nourished by food. Food has its origin from rain. Rain is the fruit of sacrifice. Sacrifice is performed by action. ”

It is not contended by either Brahmins or their followers that food will not be produced except from sacrifice performed according to Vedic ritual, but that right food, productive in the physical organism of the proper conditions enabling man to live up to his highest possibilities, alone is produced in that age
(1) In India there are numerous religious observances having in view sanitary effects. For instance the cholera dance ― a religious matter ― in which, while disinfecting camphor is burned in heaps, a curious flower-umbrella-dance is engaged in with religious chants and music.―B


where the real sacrifices are properly performed. In other places and ages food is produced, but it does not in everything come up to the required standard. In this age we have to submit to these difficulties, and can overcome them by following Krishna’s instructions as given in this book. In a verse just quoted the distinction is made between food naturally produced without, and that due to, sacrifice, for he says, “For, being nourished by sacrifices, the gods will give you the desired food.” Carrying out the argument, we find as a conclusion that if the sacrifices which thus nourish the gods are omitted, these “gods” must die or go to other spheres. And as we know that sacrifices are totally disused now, the “gods” spoken of must have long ago left this sphere. It is necessary to ask what and who they are. They are not the mere idols and imaginary beings so constantly mentioned in the indictments brought against India by missionaries, but are certain powers and properties of nature which leave the world when the Kali-yuga or dark age, as this is called, has fully set in. Sacrifices therefore among us would be useless just at present.

There is, however, another meaning to the “revolution of the wheel” spoken of by Krish-


na. He makes it very clear that he refers to the principle of reciprocity or brotherhood. And this he declares must be kept revolving; that is, each being must live according to that rule, or else he lives a life of sin to no purpose. And we can easily believe that in these days this principle, while admired as a fine theory, is not that which moves the people. They are, on the contrary, spurred by the personal selfish idea of each one becoming better, greater, richer than his neighbor. If continued unchecked it would make this nation one entirely of black magicians. And it was to counteract this that the Theosophical Society was founded, with the object of inducing men to once more revolve this wheel of brotherly love first set in motion by the “creator when of old he had created mortals.”

Krishna then proceeds to exhort Arjuna again to perform the duties appointed to him, and urges him to do it on the ground that he being a great man should set a good example that the lower orders would follow; saying,

“He who understands the whole universe should not cause these people, slow and ignorant of the universe, to relapse from their duty. ”

Knowing that, under the great cyclic laws which govern us, periods arrive even in the


worst of ages when good examples of living imprinted on the astral light cause effects ever increasing in intensity, until at last the “gods” before referred to begin in distant spheres to feel the force of these good actions and to return again to help mankind on the recurrence of a better age, he implores Arjuna to be the very first to set the good example.

In such an age as this, the ritualistic sacrifice of a different age which has indeed a magical effect becomes a sacrifice to be performed by each man in his own nature upon the altar of his own heart. And especially is this so with theosophists of sincerity and aspiration. Being born as we are in these days, among families with but small heritage in the wave of descent from unsullied ancestors, we are without the advantage of great natural spiritual leanings, and without certain peculiar powers and tendencies that belong to another cycle. But the very force and rapidity of the age we live in give us the power to do more now in fewer incarnations. Let us then recognize this, and learn what is our duty and do it. This portion of the chapter ends with a famous verse:

“It is better to do one’s own duty, even though it be devoid of excellence, than to perform another’s


duty well. Death is better in the performance of one’s own duty. Another’s duty is productive of danger.”


    Krishna having said to Arjuna that a certain class of men, being without faith, revile the true doctrine and perish at last, bewildered even by all their knowledge, Arjuna sees at once a difficulty growing out of a consideration of what, if anything, induces these men to sin as it were against their will. He sees in this the operation of an unknown force that molds men in a manner that they would not allow if conscious of it, and he says:

“Instigated by what does this man incur sin, even against his will, O descendant of Vrishni, impelled, as it were, by force? ”

To this Krishna replies:

“It is desire; it is passion springing from the quality of rajas, voracious, all-sinful. Know that it is hostile to man in this world. As fire is surrounded by smoke, and a mirror by rust (1), as the foetus is involved in the womb, so is this universe surrounded by this quality. Knowledge is surrounded by this, and it is the constant enemy of the wise man — a fire which assumes any form it will, O son of Kunti! and is insatiable. Its empire is said


(1) The ancient form of mirror is here referred to. It was made of metal and highly burnished. Of course it was constantly liable to get rusty. And our own silvered mirror is liable also to cloud, owing to the oxidizing of the coating. ―B


to be the senses, the heart, and the intellect. By means of these it surrounds knowledge and bewilders the soul. Therefore do thou, O best of Bharatas! in the first place, restraining thy senses, cast off this sinful impetus which devours spiritual knowledge and spiritual discernment.

They say that the senses are great. The heart is greater than the senses. But intellect is greater than the heart, and that which is greater than intellect is He. Knowing that it is thus greater than the mind, strengthening thyself by thyself, do thou O great-armed one! slay this foe, which assumes any form it will and is intractable. ”

Deep reflection upon this reply by the Great Lord of men shows us that the realm over which the influence of passion extends is much wider than we at first supposed. It is thought by many students that freedom can be quickly obtained as soon as they begin the study of occultism or the investigation of their inner being of which the outer is only a partial revealment. They enter upon the study full of hope, and, finding great relief and buoyancy, think that the victory is almost won. But the enemy spoken of, the obstruction, the taint, is present among a greater number of the factors that compose a being than is apparent.

Krishna has reference to the three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The first is of the nature of truth, pure and bright; the second partakes of truth in a lesser degree, is of the


nature of action, and has also in it the quality of badness; the third, tamas, is wholly bad, and its essential peculiarity is indifference, corresponding to darkness, in which no action of a pure quality is possible.

These three great divisions — or as it is in the Sanskrit, gunas — comprehend all the combinations of what we call “qualities,” whether they be moral, mental, or physical.

This passion, or desire, spoken of in the chapter is composed of the two last qualities, rajas and tamas. As Krishna says, it is intractable. It is not possible, as some teach, to bring desire of this sort into our service. It must be slain. It is useless to try to use it as a helper, because its tendency is more towards tamas, that is, downward, than towards the other.

It is shown to surround even knowledge. It is present, to a greater or lesser degree, in every action. Hence the difficulty encountered by all men who set out to cultivate the highest that is in them.

We are at first inclined to suppose that the field of action of this quality is the senses alone; but Krishna teaches that its empire reaches beyond those and includes the heart and the intellect also. The incarnated soul de-


siring knowledge and freedom finds itself snared continually by tamas, which, ruling also in the heart and mind, is able to taint knowledge and thus bewilder the struggler.

Among the senses particularly, this force has sway. And the senses include all the psychical powers so much desired by those who study occultism. It does not at all follow that a man is spiritual or knows truth because he is able to see through vast distances, to perceive the denizens of the astral world, or to hear with the inner car. In this part of the human economy the dark quality is peculiarly powerful. Error is more likely to be present there than elsewhere, and unless the seer is self governed he gets no valuable knowledge, but is quite likely to fall at last, not only into far more grievous error, but into great wickedness.

We must therefore begin, as advised by Krishna, with that which is nearest to us, that is, with our senses. We cannot slay the foe there at first, because it is resident also in the heart and mind. By proceeding from the near to the more remote, we go forward with regularity and with certainty of conquest at last. Therefore he said, “In the first place, restrain thy senses.” If we neglect those and devote


ourselves wholly to the mind and heart, we really gain nothing, for the foe still remains undisturbed in the senses. By means of those, when we have devoted much time and care to the heart and mind, it may throw such obscurations and difficulties in the way that all the work done with the heart and mind is rendered useless.

It is by means of the outward senses and their inner counterparts that a great turmoil is set up in the whole system, which spreads to the heart and from there to the mind, and, as it is elsewhere said: “The restless heart then snatches away the mind from its steady place.”

We thus have to carry on the cultivation of the soul by regular stages, never neglecting one part at the expense of another. Krishna advises his friend to restrain the senses, and then to “strengthen himself by himself.” The meaning here is that he is to rely upon the One Consciousness which, as differentiated in a man, is his higher self. By means of this higher self he is to strengthen the lower, or that which he is accustomed to call “myself.”

I    t will not be amiss here to quote from some notes of conversation with a friend of mine.

“Our consciousness is one and not many, nor different from other consciousnesses. It is


not waking consciousness or sleeping consciousness, or any other but consciousness itself.

“Now that which I have called consciousness is Being. The ancient division was:

Sat, or Being;

Chit, or Consciousness, Mind; }   These together are called Sat-chit-ananda.

Ananda, or Bliss.

“But Sat―or Being―the first of the three, is itself both Chit and Ananda. The appearing together in full harmony of Being and Consciousness is Bliss or Ananda. Hence that harmony is called Sat-chit-ananda.

“But the one consciousness of each person is the Witness or Spectator of the actions and experiences of every state we are in or pass through. It therefore follows that the waking condition of the mind is not separate consciousness.

“The one consciousness pierces up and down through all the states or planes of Being, and serves to uphold the memory―whether complete or incomplete―of each state’s experiences.

“Thus in waking life, Sat experiences fully and knows. In dream state, Sat again knows and sees what goes on there, while there may not be in the brain a complete memory of the


waking state just quitted. In Sushupti―beyond dream and yet on indefinitely, Sat still knows all that is done or heard or seen.

“The way to salvation must be entered. To take the first step raises the possibility of success. Hence it is said, ‘When the first attainment has been won, Moksha (salvation) has been won.’

“The first step is giving up bad associations and getting a longing for knowledge of God; the second is joining good company, listening to their teachings and practicing them; the third is strengthening the first two attainments, having faith and continuing in it. Whoever dies thus, lays the sure foundation for ascent to adeptship, or salvation.”


    We have come to the end of the third chapter, which is that upon Devotion through Action, or in Sanskrit, Karma-yoga. It has in these three chapters been distinctly taught that devotion must be obtained, sought after, desired, cultivated. The disciple must learn to do every act with the Divine in view, and the Divine in everything. As it is said in the Brihad Nundèkèshwar-Purâna:

While taking medicine one should think of Vishnu or the all-pervading; while eating, of Janârdana, the


     All-Giver; while lying down, of Padmanabha; while marrying, of Prajapati, the Lord of Creatures; while fighting, of Chakradhara; while traveling in a foreign land, of Trivikrama; at the time of death, of Narayana; at the time of reunion with friends, of Sridhara; after dreaming bad dreams, of Govinda; at the time of danger, of Madhusudana; in the midst of a forest, of Narasinha; in the midst of fire, of Jalasaya, or the one lying on the water; in the midst of water, of Varaha; on the mountain, of Raghunandana; while going, of Vaurana; and in all acts, of Madhava.

All these names are the names of Vishnu in his various powers and appearances. It is seeing Krishna in everything, and everything in him. This at last we must do, for Isvara, the spirit in each of us, is none other than Krishna. Therefore let us think of him and fight; while entangled in this dense forest of existence, let us think of him, the Lion our guard, the Sage our guide, the Warrior our sure defense and shield.



Chapter IV

In the third chapter Krishna approached the subject of yoga―or union with the Supreme and the method of attainment―and now in the fourth openly speaks of it. He had told Arjuna that passion is greater than either heart or mind, having power to overthrow them, and advised Arjuna to strengthen his hold on his real self, for by means of that only could he hope to overcome passion.

In the opening of this chapter we come across something of importance―the doctrine that in the early part of a new creation, called manvantara in Sanskrit, a great Being descends among men and imparts certain ideas and aspirations which reverberate all through the succeeding ages until the day when the general dissolution―the night of Brahma―comes on. He says:
“This deathless Yoga, this deep union,
I taught Vivaswata, the Lord of Light;
Vivaswata to Manu gave it; he
To Ikshvaku; so passed it down the line
Of all my royal Rishis. Then, with years,
The truth grew dim and perished, noble Prince!


Now once again to thee it is declared―
This ancient lore,this mystery supreme―
Seeing I find thee votary and friend.”

Exoteric authorities agree that Vivasvat is a name for the sun; that after him came Manu, and his son was Ikshvaku. The latter founded the line of Solar Kings, who in early times in India were men of supreme knowledge. They were adepts every one, and ruled the land as only adepts could, for the darker ages had not come on, and such great Beings could naturally live among men. Everyone respected them, and there was no rebellion even in thought, since there could be no occasion for complaint. Although Vivasvat as a name for the sun reveals nothing to our Western ears, there is a great truth hidden behind it, just as today there is as great a mystery behind our solar orb. He was the Being appointed to help and guide the race at its beginning. He had himself, ages before, gone through incarnation during other creations, and had mounted step by step up the long ladder of evolution, until by natural right he had become as a god. The same process is going on today, preparing some Being for similar work in ages to come. And it has gone on in the limitless past also; and always the Supreme Spirit as Krishna


teaches the Being, so that he may implant those ideas necessary for our salvation. After the race has grown sufficiently, the Being called the Sun leaves the spiritual succession to Manu―whether we know him by that name or another―who carries on the work until men have arrived at the point where they furnish out of the great mass some one of their own number who is capable of founding a line of Kingly Priest Rulers; then Manu retires, leaving the succession in the hands of the Royal Sage, who transmits it to his successors. This succession lasts until the age no longer will permit, and then all things grow confused spiritually, material progress increases, and the dark age, fully come, ushers in the time before dissolution. Such is the present time.

Up to the period marked by the first earthly king called Ikshvaku, the ruler was a spiritual Being whom all men knew to be such, for his power, glory, benevolence, and wisdom were evident. He lived an immense number of years, and taught men not only yoga but also arts and sciences. The ideas implanted then, having been set in motion by one who knew all the laws, remain as inherent ideas to this day. Thus it is seen that there is no foun-


dation for the pride of ideas felt by so many of us. They are not original. We never would have evolved them ourselves, unaided; and had it not been for the great wisdom of these planetary spirits in the beginning of things, we would be hopelessly drifting now.

The fables in every nation and race about great personages, heroes, magicians, gods, who dwelt among them in the beginning, living long lives, are due to the causes I have outlined. And in spite of all the sneers and labored efforts of scientific scoffers to show that there is no soul, and perhaps no hereafter, the innate belief in the Supreme, in heaven, hell, magic, and what not, will remain. They are preserved by the uneducated masses, who, having no scholastic theories to divert their minds, keep up what is left of the succession of ideas.

Arjuna is surprised to hear one whose birth he knew of declaring that Vivaswat was his contemporary, and so asks Krishna how that can happen. Krishna replies, asserting that he and Arjuna had had countless rebirths which he saw and recollected, but Arjuna, being not yet perfect in yoga, knew not his births, could not remember them. As in the poem Arjuna is also called Nara, which means Man, we here have an ancient postulation of reincarna-


tion for all the human family in direct and unmistakable words. Then very naturally he opens the doctrine, well known in India, of the reappearances of Avatars. There is some little dispute among the Hindus as to what an Avatar is; that is, whether he is the Supreme Spirit itself or only a man overshadowed by the Supreme to a greater extent than other men. But all admit that the true doctrine is stated by Krishna in the words:

*  *  “ I come, and go, and come. When Righteousness

Declines, O Bharata! when Wickedness

Is strong, I rise, from age to age, and take

Visible shape, and move a man with men,

Succouring the good, thrusting the evil back,

And setting Virtue on her seat again. ”

These appearances among men for the purpose of restoring the equilibrium are not the same as the rule of Vivaswata and Manu first spoken of, but are the coming to earth of Avatars or Saviors. That there is a periodicity to them is stated in the words “from age to age.” He is here speaking of the great cycles about which hitherto the Masters have been silent except to say that there are such great cycles. It is very generally admitted now that the cyclic law is of the highest importance in


the consideration of the great questions of evolution and man’s destiny. But the coming of an Avatar must be strictly in accordance with natural law―and that law demands that at the time of such an event there also appears a being who represents the other pole―for, as Krishna says, the great law of the two opposites is eternally present in the world. So we find in the history of India that, when Krishna appeared so long ago, there was also a great tyrant, a black magician named Kansa, whose wickedness equaled the goodness of Krishna. And to such a possibility the poem refers, where it says that Krishna comes when wickedness has reached a maximum development. The real meaning of this is that the bad karma of the world goes on increasing with the lapse of the ages, producing at last a creature who is, so to say, the very flower of all the wickedness of the past, counting from the last preceding Avatar. He is not only wicked, but also wise, with magic powers of awful scope, for magic is not alone the heritage of the good. The number of magicians developed among the nations at such a time is very great, but one towers above them all, making the rest pay tribute. It is not a fairy tale but a sober truth, and the present prevalence of self-


seeking and money-getting is exactly the sort of training of certain qualities that black magicians will exemplify in ages to come. Then Krishna―or howsoever named―appears “in visible shape, a man with men.” His power is as great as the evil one, but he has on his side what the others have not―spirit, preservative, conservative forces. With these he is able to engage in conflict with the black magicians, and in it is assisted by all of us who are really devoted to brotherhood. The result is a victory for the good and destruction for the wicked. The latter lose all chance of salvation in that manvantara, and are precipitated to the lower planes, on which they emerge at the beginning of the next new creation. So not even they are lost, and of their final salvation Krishna speaks thus:

“Whoso worship me,

Them I exalt; but all men everywhere

               Shall fall into my path; albeit, those souls

Which seek reward for works, make sacrifice

Now, to the lower gods. ”

He also declares that the right and full comprehension of the mystery of his births and work on earth confers upon us nirvana, so that rebirth occurs no more. This is because it is not possible for a man to understand the


mystery unless he has completely liberated himself from the chains of passion and acquired entire concentration. He has learned to look beneath the shell of appearances that deceives the unthinking mind.

This brings us to a rock upon which many persons fall to pieces. It is personality. Personality is always an illusion, a false picture hiding the reality inside. No person is able to make his bodily environment correspond exactly to the best that is within him, and others therefore continually judge him by the outward show. If we try, as Krishna directs, to find the divine in everything, we will soon learn not to judge by appearances, and if we follow the advice given in this chapter to do our duty without hope of reward and without trimming ourselves with a desired result in view, the end will be peace.

Krishna then adverts to various systems of religious practice, and shows Arjuna that they all lead at last, but after many births, to him, by reason of the tendency set up. The different schools are taken up in a few sentences. His dictum is that they “destroy sins,” meaning that a certain purification of the nature is thus accomplished, which is followed upon death


by a longer stay in devachan, but it is only to one single practice he awards the distinction of being that which will bring about union with the Supreme Spirit. After enumerating all, not only the performance but also the omitting of sacrifice, he shows Arjuna that spiritual knowledge includes all actions and burns to ashes the binding effects of all work, conferring upon us the power to take nirvana by reason of emancipation from the delusion that the lower self was the actor. The perfection of this spiritual knowledge is reached by strengthening faith and expelling doubt through devotion and restraint. Then occurs a verse, almost the same as one in the New Testament, “the man of doubtful mind enjoys neither this world nor the other, nor final beatitude.”


                    He that, being self-contained, hath vanquished doubt,

Disparting self from service, soul from works,

Enlightened and emancipate, my Prince!

Works fetter him no more! Cut then atwain

With sword of wisdom, Son of Bharata!

This doubt that binds thy heart-beats! cleave the bond.

Born of thy ignorance! Be bold and wise!

Give thyself to the field with me! Arise!

These strong words end the chapter. They are addressed to those who can be strong, and


not to the ever-doubting one who believes neither his own thoughts nor the words of others, but who is forever asking for more. But there can be no uncertainty about the cause of doubt. As Krishna says:

“It springs from ignorance, and all we have to do is to take the sword of knowledge and cut all doubts at once.” Many will say that they have been always looking for this that they may have peace, and that so many systems are presented for their consideration they are unable to come to any conclusion whatever. This would seem very true on a view of the thousand and one philosophies placed before us with varying degrees of clearness by the exponents of them. But it has appeared to us that they can all be easily sifted and divided into classes where they will range themselves under two great heads―those which permit nothing to be believed until the miserable mass of mediocre minds have said that they at last accept this or that, and those which have each a little of what may possibly be true and a great deal that is undeniable nonsense. The doubter is a devotee of the first school, or he is an adherent partly of one and partly of the other; and in the latter case is torn almost asunder by the numberless conventional ideas which bear the stamp of author-


ity coercing him into an acceptance of that which revolts his judgment whenever he permits it to have free exercise. If you tell him that the much-lauded mind is not the final judge, and that there are higher faculties which may be exercised for the acquirement of knowledge, he disputes on the lines laid down by learned professors of one school or another, and denies the validity of proofs offered on the ground that they are instances of “double cerebration,” and what not.

To such as these the chapter will not appeal, but there are many students who have sincere doubts, and with those the difficulty arises from ignorance. They are afraid to admit to themselves that the ancients could have found out the truth; and the reason would appear to be that this judgment is passed from a consideration of the merely material state of those people or of the present nations who in any degree follow such philosophies. Our civilization glorifies material possessions and progress, and those who have not these boons cannot be the possessors of either truth or the way to it. But the keepers of truth have never said that we will be neither rich nor civilized if we follow their system. On the contrary, in the days when Krishna lived and taught his system there was more material


glory and power than now, and more knowledge of all the laws of nature than every one of our scientists put together have in their reach. Hence if anyone teaches that the reign of the doctrines of the Masters will be the knell of all material comfort and progress, he errs, and sows the seeds of trouble for himself and his friends. Why, then, is it not wise to at once admit that there may be truth in these doctrines, throw away all doubt, and enjoy the light coming from the East?

So long as doubt remains there will be no peace, no certainty, nor any hope of finding it in this world or the lives upon it hereafter, and not even in the vast reaches of other universes on which we may live in future ages; the doubter now will be the doubter then, and so on while the wheel revolves for the millions of years yet before us.

If we follow the advice of the great Prince, our next step will be to assume, in view of patent facts of evolution, that certain great Beings exist who long ago must have trod the same road, and now possess the knowledge with the power to impart as much as we are able to take. To this Krishna refers in these words:

“Seek this knowledge by doing honor, by


prostration, by strong search, and by service; those gifted with this knowledge, who perceive the truth of things, will teach this knowledge to thee.”

And such are the exact words of the Masters. They do not reward or teach merely because we so wish it to be, nor because we value ourselves at so much; our valuation of ourselves is not theirs. They value us at the real and just rate, and cannot be moved by tears or entreaties not followed by acts, and the acts that delight them are those performed in their service, and no others.

What, then, is the work in which they wish to be served?

It is not the cultivation of our psychic powers, nor the ability to make phenomena, nor any kind of work for self when that is the sole motive.

The service and the work are in the cause of humanity, by whomsoever performed, whether by members
of the Theosophical Society or by those outside of it. And all the expectant members of the Society now standing with their mouths open, waiting for what they are pleased to call food, may as well know that they will get nothing unless the work is done or attempted.


    Let this right attitude be taken, and what follows is described in this chapter:

“A man who perfects himself in devotion finds springing up in himself in the progress of time this spiritual knowledge, which is superior to and comprehends every action without exception. ”

The fourth chapter is ended. Let all our doubts come to an end!

“What room for doubt and what for sorrow can there be in him who knows that all spiritual beings are the same in kind, differing only in degree.”



Chapter V

The name of this chapter in Sanskrit is “Karmasanyasayog,” which means “The Book of Religion by Renouncing Fruit of Works.” It has always seemed to me to be one of the most important in the Bhagavad-Gita. As the poem is divided into eighteen parts, this one is just beyond the first division, for the whole number are to be put into six groups of three chapters each, and we have finished four.

Arjuna is supposed to bring forward the objections raised by, or views belonging to, the two great Indian schools called the Sankhya and the Yoga, one of which advised its votaries to renounce all works and to do nothing whatever, while the other called for the performance of works. The divergent views naturally caused great differences in practice, for the followers of one would be found continually working, and those of the other continually doing nothing. Hence we find, in India, even at the present day, great numbers of ascetics who remain inert, and encounter on the other hand those who go on making karma with a view to salvation.


    A very little reflection will show the student that the only result of action, as such, will be a continuation of action, and hence that no amount of mere works will in themselves confer nirvana or rest from karma. The only direct product of karma is karma. And this difficulty rose before Arjuna in the fifth conversation. He says:

Thou praisest, Krishna, the renunciation of works; on the other hand, devotion through them. Declare to me with precision that one only which is the better of these two.

Whereupon Krishna replies:

To cease from works

Is well, and to do works in holiness

Is well; and both conduct to bliss supreme;

But of these twain the better way is his

Who working piously refraineth not.

That is the true Renouncer, firm and fixed,

Who―seeking nought, rejecting nought―dwells proof

Against the “opposites.”

The meaning of the teacher has been by some suggested to be that, inasmuch as the life of the ascetic is very hard, almost impossible for the majority of men, it is wiser to now perform good acts in the hope that they will lead one hereafter to a favorable birth in such sur-


roundings that complete renunciation of action―outwardly―will be an easy task, and that the two sorts of practice were not intended to be laid before the student for selection, nor is he put in a dilemma compelling him to choose. I think such is not the meaning, but that, on the contrary, the seemingly easy alternative of performing actions properly is in reality the most difficult of all tasks. And no matter how much we may wait for a favorable birth, for a much hoped-for environment which will not only permit the new sort of life but, in fact, urge it upon us, it will never arrive for us until we have learned what is the right performance of action. This learning can never be acquired by a renunciation of works now. Indeed, it may be taken for granted that no person will be able to renounce the world unless he has passed through the other experience in some life. A few may be found who attempt to do so, but if they have not been through all action they cannot proceed. The character of the man himself inwardly is the real test. No matter how many times during countless births he has renounced the world, if his inner nature has not renounced, he will be the same man during the entire period, and whenever, in any one of his ascetic lives, the new, the appro-


priate temptation or circumstance arises, he will fall from his high outward asceticism.

That our view as to the extreme difficulty of right renunciation through action is correct, we may refer to what Krishna says further on in the chapter.

Yet such abstraction, Chief!
Is hard to win without much holiness.

Krishna praises both schools, telling Arjuna that the disciples of each will arrive at a like end; but he says that right performance of action is the better. Now we must reconcile these two. If one is better than the other and yet both conduct to the same goal, there must be some reason for making the comparison, or hopeless confusion results. Acting upon his apparent equal endorsement, many seekers have abandoned action, thereby hoping to gain salvation. They ignored the sixth verse, which reads:

“O thou of mighty arms, it is difficult to attain true renunciation, without right performance of action; the devotee rightly performing action attains to true renunciation before long. ”

Here again is a higher place assigned to performance of action. It seems clear that what Krishna meant was that renunciation


of action in any one life, followed by the same conduct in all the subsequent lives thereby affected, would at last lead the renouncer to see how he must begin to stop that kind of renunciation and take up the performance of actions while he renounced the fruit of them. This is thought by many occultists to be the true view. It is well known that the ego returning to regeneration is affected by the actions of his previous births, not only circumstantially in the various vicissitudes of a life, but also in the tendency of the nature to any particular sort of religious practice, and this effect operates for a length of time or number of births exactly commensurate with the intensity of the previous practice. And naturally in the case of one who deliberately renounced all in the world, devoting himself to asceticism for many years, the effect would be felt for many lives and long after other temporary impressions had worn off. In going on thus for so many births, the man at last acquires that clearness of inner sight which brings him to perceive what method he really ought to follow. Besides also the natural development, he will be assisted by those minds whom he is sure to encounter, who have passed through all the needed experience. Additional support for these suggestions is


found in the sixth chapter, in the verses referring to the rebirth of such disciples

So hath he back again what heights of heart
He did achieve, and so he strives anew
To perfectness, with better hope, dear Prince!
For by the old desire he is drawn on

What we are to endeavor to understand, then, is how to renounce the fruit of our actions, which is what Krishna means when he tells us to perform actions as a renunciation. The polluting effect of an act is not in the nature of the mere thing done, nor is the purifying result due to what work we may do, but on either hand the sin or the merit is found in the inner feeling that accompanies the act. One may donate millions in alms, and yet not thereby benefit his real character in the least. It is very true that he will reap material rewards, perhaps in some other life, but those even will be of no benefit, since he will be still the same. And another may only give away kind words or small sums, because that is all he has to give, and be so much benefited by the feeling accompanying each act that his progress up the ascending arc toward union with spirit is rapid. We find in the Christian
(1)   The italics are my own. ―B  


Testament Jesus of Nazareth enforcing this view in the parable of the widow’s mite, which he regarded as of more value than all that had been given by others. He could not have referred to the intrinsic value of the coin given, nor to the act as thus measured, for that quantity was easily ascertained; he only looked to the inner feeling of the poor woman when she gave all that she had.

No matter in what direction we see ourselves acting, we perceive how difficult it is to be true renouncers. And we cannot hope to reach the perfection of this better sort of renunciation through action, in the present life, be it the one in which we have begun, or be it the twentieth of such effort. However, we can try, and such is our duty; if we persevere, the tendency toward the right understanding will increase with each life more rapidly than would otherwise be possible.

And even in the high aim found in aspiration to discipleship under a master, or even to adeptship, we encounter the same difficulty. This aspiration is commendable above most that we can formulate, but when we coldly ask ourselves soon after that aspiration has been formed, “Why am I thus aspiring; why do I want to be near in sense to the Master?”, we


are obliged to admit that the impelling motive for acquiring the aspiration was tinged with selfishness. We can easily prove this by inquiring in the forum of our own conscience if we had the aspiration for ourself or for the great mass of men, rich and poor, despicable and noble; would we be able to feel content were we suddenly told that our deep longing had given the boon to others and that we must wait ten lives more? It is safe to say that the answer would be that we were very sorry. In the twelfth verse we find the remedy for the difficulty, as well as the difficulty itself, clearly stated thus:

“The right performer of action, abandoning fruit of action, attains to rest through devotion; the wrong performer of action, attached to fruit thereof on account of desire, remains bound. ”

These instructions will be very difficult for all who are living for themselves and who have not in some small degree begun to believe that they are not here for their own sake. But when we feel that there is no separation between us and any other creature, and that our higher self is leading us through all the experiences of life to the end that we shall recognize the unity of all, then, instead of continually acting contrary to that object of the Higher Self, we


try to acquire the right belief and aspiration. Nor need we be deterred, as some are, by the extreme difficulty of eliminating the selfish desire for progress. That will be the task during many lives, and we should begin it voluntarily as soon as it is known, instead of waiting for it to be forced in upon us through suffering and many defeats.

A common mistake made by students is corrected in this chapter. It is the habit of many to say that, if these doctrines are followed to the letter, the result is a being who cares for nothing but the calmness which comes from extinction in the Supreme Spirit―that is, the extreme of selfishness. And popular writers contribute to this ridiculous impression, as we can see in the numerous articles on the subject. Among those writers it is the sequence of the “personal aggrandizement idea,” which is the bane of the present age, as occultists think, but the chief beauty of it in the eyes of those to whom we refer. Krishna puts it clearly enough in the twenty-fifth verse:

“Effacement in the Supreme Spirit is gained by the right-seeing sage whose sins are exhausted, who hath cut asunder all doubts, whose senses and organs are under control,


and who is devoted to the well-being of all creatures.

If the last qualification is absent, then he is not a “right-seeing sage” and cannot reach union with the Supreme. It must follow that the humblest imitator, everyone who desires to come to that condition, must try to the best of his ability to imitate the sage who has succeeded. And such is the word of the Master; for he says in many places that, if we expect to have his help, we must apply ourselves to the work of helping humanity ―to the extent of our ability. No more than this is demanded.



Chapter VI

More than one subject is treated in this chapter. It ends what I call the first series, as the whole eighteen chapters should be divided into three groups of six each.

Renunciation, equal-mindedness, true meditation, the golden mean in action, the unity of all things, the nature of rebirth and the effect of devotion upon it and devachan, are all touched upon.

It is a most practical chapter which would benefit students immensely if fully grasped and followed. The mistakes made many thousand years ago by disciples were the same as those of today. Today, just as then, there are those who think true renunciation consists in doing nothing except for themselves, in retiring from active duties, and in devoting their attention to what they are pleased to call self-development. On the other hand are those who mistake incessant action for true devotion. The true path is between these two.

The forsaking of worldly action― called sannyas―is the same as what is known in Europe as the monastic life, especially in some


very ascetic orders. Adopted selfishly under a mistaken notion of duty it cannot be true devotion. It is merely an attempt to save oneself. The course adopted by some theosophical students very much resembles this erroneous method, although it is practiced in the freedom of the world and not behind monastery walls.

To be a true renouncer of action and a devotee one must put the problem on another plane. On the physical brain plane there is no way of reconciling a contradiction such as appears to exist in the direction to perform actions and yet renounce their performance. It is exactly here that many readers of the Bhagavad-Gita stop and are confused. They have for so long been accustomed to thinking of the physical and living in it, the terms used for their thought are so material in their application, that, seeing this contradiction, they say that the book will not benefit them. But considering the difficulty from the view that the real actor is the mind, that acts are not the dead outward expressions of them, but are the thoughts themselves, we can see how one can be both a renouncer and a devotee, how we can outwardly perform every action, multitudes of them, being as active as anyone who is


wrapped up in worldly pursuits, and yet be ourselves unattached and unaffected.

Duty and the final imperative―the “what ought I to do”― comes in here and becomes a part of the process. The actions to be performed are not any and every one. We are not to go on heedlessly and indiscriminately doing everything that is suggested. We must discover what actions ought to be performed by us and do them for that reason and not because of some result we expect to follow. The fact that we may be perfectly certain of the result is no reason for allowing our interest to fasten upon that. Here again is where certain theosophists think they have a great difficulty. They say that knowing the result one is sure to become interested in it. But this is the very task to be essayed — to so hold one’s mind and desires as not to be attached to the result.

By pursuing this practice true meditation is begun and will soon become permanent. For one who watches his thoughts and acts, so as to perform those that ought to be done, will acquire a concentration in time which will increase the power of real meditation. It is not meditation to stare at a spot on the wall for a fixed period, or to remain for another space of


time in a perfectly vacuous mental state which soon runs into sleep. All those things are merely forms which in the end will do no lasting good. But many students have run after these follies, ignoring the true way. The truth is that the right method is not easy; it requires thought and mental effort, with persistency and faith. Staring at spots and such miscalled occult practices are very easy in comparison with the former.

However, we are human and weak. As such we require help, for the outer self cannot succeed in the battle. So Krishna points out that the lower self is to be raised up by the help of the higher; that the lower is, as it were, the enemy of the higher, and we must not allow the worse to prevail. It will all depend upon self-mastery. The self below will continually drag down the man who is not self-conquered. This is because that lower one is so near the thick darkness that hangs about the lower rungs of evolution’s ladder it is partly devil. Like a heavy weight it will drag into the depths the one who does not try to conquer himself. But on its other side the self is near to divinity, and when conquered it becomes the friend and helper of the conqueror. The Sufis, the Mohammedan mystical sect, symbolize this in their


poetry relating to the beautiful woman who appears but for a moment at the window and then disappears. She refuses to open the door to her lover as long as he refers to their being separate; but when he recognizes their unity then she becomes his firm friend.

The next few verses in the Gîta outline that which is extremely difficult―equal-mindedness, and intentness upon the Supreme Being in heat and cold, pleasure and pain, success and failure. We cannot reach to this easily, perhaps not in many lives, but we can try. Every effort we make in that direction will be preserved in the inner nature and cannot be lost at death. It is a spiritual gain, the riches laid up in heaven to which Jesus referred. To describe the perfection of equal-mindedness is to picture an adept of the highest degree, one who has passed beyond all worldly considerations and lives on higher planes. Gold and stones are the same to him. The objects he seeks to accomplish are not to be reached through gold, and so it and the pebbles have the same value. He is also so calm and free from delusion of mind and soul that he remains the same whether with enemies or friends, with the righteous or the sinners.

This high condition is therefore set before


us as an ideal to be slowly but steadfastly striven after so that in the course of time we may come near it. If we never begin we will never accomplish, and it is far better to adopt this high ideal, even though failing constantly, than to have no ideal whatever.

But some are likely to make a mistake herein. Indeed they have done so. They set up the ideal, but in a too material and human manner. Then they thought to walk on the chosen path by outward observance, by pretending to regard gold and stones as the same to them, while in their hearts they preferred the gold. Their equal-mindedness they confined to other people’s affairs, while they displeased and alarmed all relatives and friends by the manner of riding this hobby and by wrong neglect of obvious duty. Truly they sought for equal-mindedness, but failed to see that it can only be acquired through right performance of duty, and not by selecting the duties and environments that please us.



Chapter VII

This chapter is devoted to the question of that spiritual discernment by means of which the Supreme Spirit can be discerned in all things, and the absence of which causes a delusion constantly recurring, the producer of sorrow. Krishna says that this sort of knowledge leaves nothing else to be known, but that to attain it the heart―that is, every part of the nature―must be fixed on the Spirit, meditation has to be constant, and the Spirit made the refuge or abiding-place. He then goes on to show that to have attained to such a height is to be a mahatma.

Among thousands of mortals a single one perhaps strives for perfection, and among those so striving perhaps a single one knows me as I am.

This points out the difficulty to be met in any one life, but is not cause for discouragement. It simply makes clear the fact, and thus also punctures the boastful claims of those who would pretend to have reached perfection but do not show it in their acts.

He then gives an eightfold division of his inferior nature, or that part of the Universal


One which can be known. This is not the nature of man, and does not oppose the theosophical sevenfold system of human principles. No particular theosophical classification for the divisions of nature has been given out. It would, on the one hand, not be understood, and on the other, disputes leading to no good end would follow. He might as well have stated the twenty-fivefold division held by some other school. This “inferior nature” is only so relatively. It is the phenomenal and transient which disappears into the superior at the end of a kalpa. It is that part of God, or of the Self, which chose to assume the phenomenal and transient position, but is, in essence, as great as the superior nature. The inferiority is only relative. As soon as objective material, and subjective spiritual, worlds appear, the first-named has to be denominated inferior to the other, because the spiritual, being the permanent base, is in that sense superior; but as an absolute whole all is equal.

Included in the inferior nature are all the visible, tangible, invisible and intangible worlds; it is what we call nature. The invisible and intangible are nonetheless actual; we know that poisonous gas, though invisible and intangible, is fatally actual and potential.


    Experiment and induction will confer a great deal of knowledge about the inferior nature of God and along that path the science of the modern West is treading, but before knowing the occult, hidden, intangible realms and forces―often called spiritual, but not so in fact―the inner astral senses and powers have to be developed and used. This development is not to be forced, as one would construct a machine for performing some operation, but will come in its own time as all our senses and powers have come. It is true that a good many are trying to force the process, but at last they will discover that human evolution is universal and not particular; one man cannot go very far beyond his race before the time.

Krishna points out to Arjuna a gulf between the inferior and the superior. This latter is the Knower and that which sustains the whole universe, and from it the inferior nature springs. So the materialistic and scientific investigator, the mere alchemist, the man who dives into the occult moved by the desire for gain to himself, will none of them be able to cross the gulf at all, because they do not admit the indwelling Spirit, the Knower.

The superior nature can be known because


it is in fact the Knower who resides in every human being who has not degraded himself utterly. But this must be admitted before any approach to the light can be made. And but few are really willing, and many are unable, to admit the universal character of the Self. They sometimes think they do so by admitting the Self as present, as contiguous, as perhaps part tenant. This is not the admission, it leaves them still separate from the Self. All the phenomenal appearances, all the different names, and lives, and innumerable beings, are hung suspended, so to say, on the Self. Thus:

And all things hang on me as precious gems upon a string.

A number of pre-eminently great and precious things and powers are here enumerated and declared to be the Self; while next the very delusions and imperfections of life and man are included. Nothing is left out. This is certainly better than an illogical religion which separates God from the delusions and cruelties of nature, and then invents a third thing, in the person of a devil, who is the source of human wickedness. All this further accentuates the difficulties in the way. Krishna says the illusion is difficult to surmount,


but that success can be attained by taking refuge in the Self ―for he is the Self. The entire congregation of worshipers who are righteous find favor with the Self, but those who are spiritually wise are on the path that leads to the highest, which is the Self.

This means, as Krishna says, that those who with the eye of spiritual wisdom see that the Self is all, begin to reincarnate with that belief ingrained in them. Hitherto they had come back to earth without that single idea, but possessed of many desires and of ideas which separated them from the Self. Now they begin to return fully at rest in the Self and working out their long-accumulated karma. And at last they become what was mentioned in the opening verses, a mahatma or great soul.

There is, however, a large number of persons who are in the class which has been deprived of spiritual discernment “through diversity of desires” or who have not yet had discernment for the same reason. The verse reads as follows:

Those who through diversity of desires are deprived of spiritual wisdom adopt particular rites subordinated to their own natures, and worship other Gods.


    Although these words, like the rest of the colloquy, were spoken in India and to a Hindu, they are thoroughly applicable in the West. Every mode of thought and of living may be called a rite gone over by each one as his conscious or unconscious religion. A man adopts that which is conformable, or subordinate, to his own nature, and being full of desires he worships or follows other gods than the Supreme Self. In India the words would more particularly mean the worship, which is quite common, of idols among those who are not educated out of idolatry; but they would also mean what is said above. In the West these “other gods” are the various pleasures, objects, aims and modes of life and thought, be they religious or not, which the people adopt. They have not the many thousands of gods of the Hindu pantheon, each one for some particular purpose, but it comes to the same thing. The idol-worshiper bows to the god visible so that he may attain the object of his heart which that god is supposed to control. The Western man worships his object and strives after it with all his heart and mind and thus worships something else than the Supreme Imperishable One. The god of one is political advancement, of another―and


generally of most―the possession of great wealth. One great god is that of social advancement, the most foolish, hollow and unsatisfactory of all; and with it in America is yoked the god of money, for without wealth there is no social preeminence possible except in those cases where official position confers a temporary glory. The mother often spends sleepless nights inventing means for pushing her daughter into social success; the father lies wakefully calculating new problems for the production of money. The inheritors of riches bask in the radiance coming from their own gold, while they strive for new ways to make, if possible, another upward step on that road, founded on ashes and ending at the grave, which is called social greatness. And out of all this striving many and various desires spring up so that their multiplicity and diversity completely hide and obstruct all spiritual development and discernment.

But many who are not so carried away by these follies attend to some religion which they have adopted or been educated into. In very few cases, however, is the religion adopted: it is born with the child; it is found with the family and is regularly fastened on as a gar-


ment. If in this religion, or cult, there is faith, then the Supreme Self, impartial and charitable, makes the faith strong and constant so that thereby objects are attained. In whatever way the devotee chooses to worship with faith it is the Supreme which, though ignored, brings about the results of faith.

A curious speculation rises here; it may be true, it may be not. It can be noticed that millions of prayers are recited every month addressed to the One God, all through Christendom, asking various favors. Millions were offered for the conversion to a better life of the Prince of Wales―they failed. The rain ceases and prayers are made, but the dryness continues. Candles are lighted and prayers said to stop the earthquake which is destroying the city―the quakings go on until the impulse is ended and the city ruined. It is perfectly impossible to prove answers to prayer in enough cases to convince the thoughtful. Now the speculative thought is that perhaps the prayers offered to an unmanifested God have no effect, for to be effectual the Being appealed to must have a separate existence so as to be able to intervene in separated manifested things. Christians do not possess the statistics of results from prayer offered to


Gods in Oriental countries. The usual cases brought forward in the West are such as the orphan asylum, for which nothing is asked except in prayer. But in India they have institutions similarly―but not so lavishly―supported and no asking alone save to the particular patron god. It is a matter of strong, constant faith which carries the thoughts of the prayer into the receptive minds of other people, who are then moved by the subconscious injected thought to answer the request. Now if the prayer is offered to an unseen and unknown God the faith of the person is not firm, whereas perhaps in the case of the idol-worshiper or of the Roman Catholic addressing himself to the Mother of God with her image before him, the very presence of the representative is an aid to constancy in faith. All this applies of course to prayers for personal and selfish ends. But that prayer or aspiration which is for spiritual light and wisdom is the highest of all, no matter to whom or what addressed. All religions teach that sort of prayer; all others are selfish and spiritually useless.


    Although the strength of the devotee’s devotion and faith for any God or object is due entirely to the Supreme Self, no matter if the faith be foolish and the God false, yet the reward obtained is said to be temporary, transitory, sure to come to an end. But unlike Western religious systems this is declared to be a matter of law instead of being determined by sentiment or arbitrarily. The sentences in which I find this are as follows:

But the reward of such short-sighted men is temporary. Those who worship the Gods go to the Gods, and those who worship me come unto me.

Man, made of thought, occupant only of many bodies from time to time, is eternally thinking. His chains are through thought, his release due to nothing else. His mind is immediately tinted or altered by whatever object it is directed to. By this means the soul is enmeshed in the same thought or series of thoughts as is the mind. If the object be anything that is distinct from the Supreme Self then the mind is at once turned into that, becomes that, is tinted like that. This is one of the natural capacities of the mind. It is naturally clear and uncolored, as we would see if we were able to find one that had not gone through too many experiences. It is movable and quick, having a disposition to bound from one point to another. Several words would


describe it. Chameleon-like it changes color, sponge-like it absorbs that to which it is applied, sieve-like it at once loses its former color and shape the moment a different object is taken up. Thus, full of joy from an appropriate cause, it may suddenly become gloomy or morose upon the approach of that which is sorrowful or gloomy. We can therefore say it becomes that to which it is devoted.

Now “the Gods” here represent not only the idols of idol-worshipers, but all the objects and desires people run after. For the idols are but the representatives of the desired object. But all these gods are transitory. If we admit the existence of Indra or any other god, even he is impermanent. Elsewhere it is said that all the gods are subject to the law of death and rebirth―at the time of the great dissolution they disappear. The vain things which men fix their minds on and run after are of the most illusory and transitory character. So whether it be the imaginary gods or the desires and objects the mind is fixed on, it ―that is, those who thus act―has only a temporary reward because the object taken is in itself temporary. This is law and not sentiment.

Pushing into details a little further it is said that after death the person, compelled


thereto by the thoughts of life, becomes fixed in this, that or the other object or state. That is why the intermediate condition of kama-loka is a necessity. In that state they become what they thought. They were bigots and tortured others: those thoughts give them torture. Internal fires consume them until they are purified. The varieties of their different conditions and appearances are as vast in number as are all the immense varieties of thoughts. I could not describe them.

But those who worship or believe in the Self as all-in-all, not separate from any, supreme, the container, the whole, go to It, and, becoming It, know all because of its knowledge, and cease to be subject to change because It is changeless. This also is law, and not sentiment.

The chapter concludes by showing how the ignorant who believe in a Supreme Being with a form, fall into error and darkness at the time of their birth because of the hold which former life-recollections have upon the mind. This includes the power of the skandhas or aggregates of sensations and desires accumulated in prior lives. At birth these, being a natural part of us, rush to us and we to them, so that a new union is made for another lifetime. In


the other life, not having viewed the Self as all and in all, and having worshiped many gods, the sensations of liking and disliking are so strong that the darkness of rebirth is irresistible. But the wise man died out of his former life with a full knowledge of the Self at the hour of death, and thus prevented the imprinting upon his nature of a set of sensations and desires that would otherwise, upon reincarnation, lead him into error.

This is the chapter on Unity, teaching that the Self is all, or if you like the word better, God: that God is all and not outside of nature, and that we must recognize this great unity of all things and beings in the Self. It and the next chapter are on the same subject and are only divided by a question put by Arjuna.




THE Bhagavad-Gita has a subsidiary title, “The Book of Devotion.” Each of its chapters—with the exception of the first one— treats of devotion by some particular means; so the preceding chapters may be regarded as leading up to the highest form of devotion through the various forms adopted by mankind.

The Eighth Chapter is entitled Devotion to the Omnipresent Spirit named as Om This title is a key to what follows in the chapter, as well as a summation of what is contained therein.

The Western mind may find a difficulty in grasping the idea of devotion to that which is everywhere, for the common acceptation of the term implies an object to which one may devote himself; here, however, devotion is shown to be a quality inherent in the one who perceives and not in any object seen and is therefore, applicable universally as well as in particular.

The deepest thinkers, ancient and modern, hold that That which reasons is higher than reason; and similarly, That which perceives


forms and acquires knowledge, is beyond all form, and is not limited to, or by, any degree of knowledge. These sages declare, and show, that all limitations are self-imposed and impermanent; hence they speak of the manifested universe as the “Great Illusion” produced by a general and temporary sense of separateness on the part of the beings involved. Their efforts at all times have been directed towards aiding the advancing intelligence of mankind to a truer realization of the essential nature of all beings, from which alone can come perfection in knowledge and hence the highest happiness.

“The Omnipresent Spirit named as Om,” refers to the One Spirit which animates all worlds and beings. Another expression for the same idea is “ The Self of all creatures”, and in the present chapter Krishna begins his reply to Arjuna by saying “Braman the Supreme is the exhaustless”. These terms, and many others used, are but different ways of conveying the same idea. An aid to comprehension may be had if it is realized that ‘the power, or ability to perceive is common to all creatures”, and that it includes all that the abstract terms Spirit, Life and Consciousness imply. In fact, the Bhagavad-Gita cannot be


understood unless it is studied upon the basis that “That which lives and thinks in Man is the Eternal Pilgrim”, and that “he is wise indeed who sees and knows that all spiritual beings are the same in kind, and differ only in degree.”

As has been before stated, Krishna stands for the Higher Self of all beings; there fore all the discourses under his name are to be taken as addressed to all men and not merely as from one personage to another. It will then be understood that when He speaks of “my being manifesting as the Individual Self ”, “Purusha, the Spiritual Person” or “myself in this body”, He refers to the constituents of each human being.

“Karma is the emanation which causes the existence and reproduction of creatures”. Perhaps this sentence may be made more clear if the student takes into consideration the ancient aphorism that “There is no Karma unless there is a being to make it or feel its effects”; Karma means action, and as each being or creature acts according to his own degree of perception and feels the re-action or effect in the same relation, Karma as a whole, in so far as any world or system of worlds is concerned, is the interaction of all the beings


of every grade who constitute, or are connected with, any such world or system. Karma therefore is inherent in all beings and is not self-existent as such, or imposed by any imagined originator of worlds.

Krishna shows that the realization of immortality must be had during life in the body if the highest state is to be attained. This state reached, the necessity for reincarnation ceases. Those however whose beliefs are strongly fixed on some particular form of after death existence, have a realization of what they aspire to and then in the fulness of time are reborn upon earth.

The meditation spoken of as necessary to the highest attainment is sometimes called “a lifetime’s meditation” it means that the immortality of man has first to be assumed, and then rigidly adhered to as the basis for every thought and action, for it is only in this way that a realization of immortality can be obtained by embodied beings. As it is from the Spirit in Man that all law and power proceeds, each human being creates his own limitations on every plane of being; he can transcend those limitations only by reverting to and maintaining his immortality, as the


observer and experiencer of all the passing changes, himself unchanged and unchanging.

Throughout the dialogue Krishna speaks of the various paths of devotion taken by men. Most of these paths are taken in order to obtain some coveted reward, such as freedom from rebirth, enjoyment of the individual’s ideal of happiness after release from the body; individual salvation. He shows that all these rewards may be obtained by constant effort, but that all are temporary in duration, necessitating a return to earthly existence at some later period, however remote. “The Brahmacharya laboring for salvation”, labors for himself alone; he “goeth to the supreme goal”, but in that state is beyond the power of helping his fellow men. Although he may remain in that blissful state for an immense period of time, the duties to his fellow men which set aside in order to obtain salvation for himself, will inevitably place him where those duties have to be faced and fulfilled. The case of such an one is quite different from “those great-souled ones who have attained to supreme perfection” in knowledge and universal duty.

“Al1 worlds up to that of Brahmâ are subject to rebirth again and again” In the


section beginning with these words Krishna is pointing out the Law of Periodicity which prevails in every department of Nature. This more fully explained in the Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, Vol. I, in that part referring to the Three Fundamental Principles. Briefly stated, our present earthly existence is the result of previous ones; the present earth is the result of previous earths; the present solar system is the result of previous ones. All of these present progress of some sort, for the essence of progress is change. All beings have evolved to their present status, be that high or low, and all are still evolving; an infinite universe presents infinite possibilities. “But,” says Krishna, “there is that which upon the dissolution of all things else is not destroyed; it is indivisible, indestructible, and of another nature from the visible”. This is the Divine Spark of Spirit, Life, and Consciousness in every form and being. In Man it is called the “Perceiver”, That which sees, learns and knows, apart from all objects, circumstances or conditions through which It passes. “This Supreme, 0 son of Pritha, within whom all creatures are included, and by whom all this is pervaded, may be attained by a devotion which is intent on him alone”. To “act for and as


the Self” in every state, under all conditions and in every circumstance is the highest path and leads to the highest goal; it is the path of [ in its highest aspect.

“I will now declare to thee, 0 best of the Bharatas, at what time yogis dying obtain freedom from or subjection to rebirth”. Yogis are those who strive for union with the Higher Self. All do not succeed in any one life, so some are subject to rebirth. Krishna indicates the conditions of planets and seasons in the several cases of departure. It would appear from the specific statement above quoted that the indications mentioned do not apply to those whose thoughts are based upon material existence, and that in such cases other indications apply. It may be of interest to consider in this relation the declaration of the ancient sages that all Souls do not depart from the body in the same way. They hold that there are seven great plexi governing other minor ones, these represent channels through which influences are received or given. Each of these channels has its own direct relation to one of the seven divisions of the system, thus showing Man to have the possibility of conscious relation with all the divisions. From this it would follow that the predominating


idea of any one life would necessitate departure through some particular channel leading to its own appropriate realm of freedom or bondage. Thus Man binds himself or frees himself by reason of his spiritual power—and his connection with every department and division of great Nature. Krishna concludes the chapter by saying, “The man of meditation who knoweth all this, reaches beyond what ever rewards are promised in the Vedas, or that result from sacrifices, or austerities, or from gifts of charity, and goeth to the supreme, the highest place”. This highest place is sometimes called “All-knowingness,” the perfection of knowledge, the possession of which confers power of action upon any or all departments of manifested Nature. To reach this “highest place” the highest motive must prevail in all thought and action, perhaps through many lives. The idea of this highest motive may be best conveyed by considering the following ancient pledge :—










    THE title of the Ninth Chapter is “Devotion by Means of the Kingly Knowledge and the Kingly Mystery”. The word “Kingly” means of course “the Highest”, so that if the title had been written in our time, it would have read “The Highest Knowledge and the Deepest Mystery.”

That any book or system of thought should purport to afford the means by which such universal knowledge may be gained, is a fact which demands the attention of every intelligent mind. A claim so great may not be lightly brushed aside as unworthy of deep consideration. Thinkers everywhere admit that what is needed in the world is a self evidently true basis for thought and action; they realize that our sciences, philosophies and religions are attempts, more or less sincere, to obtain such a basis, but are being continually confronted with the fact that none of these supply a sure foundation for the peace, happiness and true progress of mankind. It is realized, for instance, that our modern modes of thought are based upon and applied to ma-


terial existence and external appearances, all of these being the effects of unseen causes, and that where attempt is made to fathom the unseen, material existence is taken as the cause, and the unseen as the effect, with no perceptible gain in the direction of an understanding of Life or its purpose.

It is interesting to note that the modern basis of thought and action is the reverse of that of the ancient sages, and that whereas our ways of thinking leave us in the dark, the ways of the ancients throw a clear light upon all our problems. Let us therefore study the wisdom of the past, that we may go forward with a clearer and more definite purpose than we now have.

In this chapter, Krishna addresses his disciple Arjuna in these terms: “Unto thee who findeth no fault, I will now make known this most mysterious knowledge, coupled with a realization of it, which having known thou shalt be delivered from evil.” The words “Unto thee who findeth no fault” mean that Arjuna is recognized as one who understands that Law rules in everything and every circumstance, and that nothing can come to him of good or of evil, but that of which he him self was the cause; thus he accepted the good


without exultation and the evil without complaint; in other words, Arjuna was equal-minded in pain or pleasure, joy or sorrow, and stood ready to suffer or enjoy whatever the Higher Self had in store for him by way of experience or discipline. Thus at the outset Krishna propounds and Arjuna accepts the rule of Law, as a necessary step towards further enlightenment.

The term “knowledge” as used here has a greater meaning than we are accustomed to give it; for we would esteem as “knowledge” an all-round acquaintance with religions, philosophies, arts, sciences and histories as so far recorded, together with that which our senses give us in regard to the external material world. It is generally held, for instance, that one cannot know the constituents or properties of a piece of stone, without mechanical or chemical aids applied directly to the object, and that nothing can be known of the thoughts or feelings of another unless expressed in words or acts; whereas, the knowledge spoken of by Krishna implies a full identification of the mind—or thinking power—, with whatever subject or object it may be directed to, which concentration enables the perceiver to cognize all the inherent qualities of the subject or


object, as well as all incidental peculiarities, and know all about its nature.

The possibility of such “all-knowingness” is not admitted by the leaders of thought, and men of our day, whose process is based upon reasoning from particulars to universals, from effects to probable cause, and who are content to erect ever-changing hypotheses. Their process of reasoning is one, which although more refined and expanded, is the same as that used by our savage races. The sages of old, through experience gained from many civilizations, had learned to begin with universals—the plane of causation—and had finally come to see, understand and use the true process, after numberless testings and verifications. It is the result of this acquired wisdom that Krishna imparts to Arjuna as rapidly as his advancing intelligence will permit. It is this wisdom and its results that are portrayed in the Secret Doctrine—or Theosophy. So, if the student is to understand the Bhagavad-Gita, he must begin with universals and with the universal ever in mind expand into all particulars.

Take the opening sentence of the second paragraph of this chapter. “All this universe is pervaded by me in my invisible form; all things exist in me, but I do not exist in them”;


here Krishna speaks as the Omnipresent Spirit which is in all beings, but which is fully realized in such beings as Krishna, Christ, and others who have appeared in the world of men.

When Krishna uses the personal pronoun throughout the Gita, he is not referring to his own personality, but to the Self of All. So the above sentence may be read “All this universe is pervaded and sustained by the One Self—the Omnipresent Spirit; as it is the Self and Perceiver in all forms, it cannot be seen externally. Because of It, all forms exist; but It is not dependent upon form or forms; these are dependent upon It.” In this sentence is contained an expression of the basic Universal Principle, the cause and sustainer of all that was, is, or ever shall be, and without which nothing exists. Being Universal or Omnipresent, and Infinite, no form of thought can define It; yet mankind has ever attempted to define the Infinite by their finite conceptions of Deity. Hence the many gods of different times and peoples; man-made idols every one of them, whether they be mental or physical. It is these man-made conceptions of Deity that have ever tended to erect and sustain divisions between peoples; tribal .and national


gods deny and frustrate a realization of Universal Brotherhood.

The ancient teaching which Krishna once more enunciates is that all forms of every kind proceed from One Universal Source; the life of each is hidden in and sustained by that Source—the One Life. The power to perceive and expand its range of perception and expression is the same in all beings and forms; the degrees of perception and expression are shown in the innumerable classes of beings it is this power that is behind all evolution— the unfolding from within outwards.

Krishna goes on to present the Law under which all beings evolve, in the words, “0 son of Kunti, at the end of a kalpa all things return unto my nature, and then again at the beginning of another kalpa, I cause them to evolve again”. A kalpa means a great age or period, and the law referred to is what is spoken of in the Secret Doctrine as the Law of Periodicity, or the law of cycles. Everywhere in nature we find this law in operation, as in day and night, summer and winter, life and ,death, in-breathing and out-breathing, the systole and diastole of the heart, sowing and reaping. The general name for this universal Law is Karma, which means Action and Re-


action, Cause and Effect; it applies to all beings and all planes. An ancient aphorism says, “There is no Karma unless there is a being to make it or feel its effect.” Hence all manifestation is the result of karmic action by beings of every grade in their inter-action and inter-relation.

The phrase “I cause them to evolve again” carries with it the meaning that each period of manifestation, great or small, is followed by another on the basis of the experience gained. That which causes “them to evolve again” is the Self of All, which is also the self of each, or as it has been poetically called, “the Great Breath” with its great periodical recurrent “out-breathings and in-breathings”; ceaseless pulsation may be said to be Its one attribute. It is this essential nature which is meant in the phrase “I emanate again and again this whole assemblage of beings, without their will, by the power of the material essence”. “Without their will”, may be understood by considering that no human being is in a body because he—as such—desired to be; nor does he leave his body because he desires to; the impelling force proceeds from the inner self. the real man. “By the power of the material essence” may be understood by considering the state-


ment that Spirit and Matter are co-existent and co-eternal. By “matter” is meant primordial substance from which all differentiations in matter are produced by conscious actions of beings of different grades.

“I am as one who sitteth indifferent” means that the One Self is not involved in any or all forms of manifestation, but ever remains the spectator, the admonisher, the sustainer, the enjoyer, .and also the highest soul. Just as each one may say, “I was in a child body and had experiences pertaining to that state; I passed through the changes of body and circumstance up to the present, and will pass through all changes to come, but I remain the same unchanging identity throughout all conditions.”

“The deluded despise me in human form, being unacquainted with my real nature as Lord of all things”. The One Self is the self of all beings. The Upanishads say that “the Self shines in all; but in all It does not shine forth.” Krishna says that the deluded fail to recognize this Self, and judging from appearances and arbitrary classifications, maintain separateness. So acting, they set in motion causes that produce similar effects— in other words, bad karma.


    The remainder of the chapter is devoted to presentations of the right understanding of Self and its results, as well as the results of a false or imperfect understanding.

‘ Krishna’s teaching throughout, emphasises the statement that there is but One Spirit and not several,—the same Spirit animating all beings and sustaining all. The same power to perceive is possessed by all alike. The differences in beings consist in the range of perception which has been acquired through evolution, and this applies to all lives below Man, to Man himself, and to all beings higher than Man. In “The Voice of the Silence” it is said that “Mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects,” and in other writings Mind is spoken of as “the mirror of the Soul”. We cannot fail to see that we act in accordance with the ideas of life that we hold; that what we call “our mind” is a number of ideas held by us as a basis for thought and action; that we change ideas from time to time, as we find occasion for such change; but that at all times we act from the basis of ideas presently held. The reason for the differences between human beings is the false, imperfect or true ideas , form the basis of thought or action are or one to accept and hold only such


ideas as are in accord with our personal desires. Krishna presents an example of what, among us, would be called a good desire, that of “those enlightened in the Vedas”, whose desire is for a personal enjoyment of heaven; these, he says, obtain and enjoy that heaven for a period of time proportionate to their merits, and then they sink back to mortal birth. He concludes by saying “thus, those who long for the accomplishment of desires, following the Vedas, obtain a happiness which comes and goes. But for those who, thinking of me as identical with all, constantly worship me, I bear the burden of the responsibility of their happiness”. The words “constantly worship me,” have an explanation further on, in the chapter where he says, “Whatever thou doest, O Son of Kunti, whatever thou eatest, what-ever thou sacrificest, whatever thou givest, whatever mortification thou performest, commit each unto me”. The real “worship”, is devotion to an ideal. Here “the Self of All” is the ideal, and the action indicated is to think and act for, and as, the One Self in all things, without self-interest in the results. We are not attached to results by our acts, but by our thoughts; freedom comes from a renunciation of self-interest in the fruit of actions.


    All of the above is included in Krishna’s closing injunction; “Having obtained this finite, joyless world, worship me. Serve me, fix heart and mind on me, be my servant, my adorer, prostrate thyself before me, and thus, united unto me, at rest, thou shalt go unto me.”




    THE title given is “Devotion By Means of the Universal Divine Perfections”. The words “Universal Divine Perfections” have a significance not usually perceived. Men speak of perfection from the standpoint of imperfection, and always in relation to forms, conditions and appearances that are constantly changing; so that with humanity in general the standard of perfection is an ever-receding and elusive, as well as delusive idea. Here again, as with our modern science, we reason from particulars to universals, instead of from universals to particulars, never perceiving that nothing less that the cause itself could ever know itself.

The discourses of Krishna but repeat that which was known before, to the perfected men of all ages, and that which all divine incarnations have since declared—that Man is identical with the Absolute unmanifested, and also with the Deity as we see It manifested in Nature. Our doctrines and education lead us to think that we are inherently imperfect; if we are so, we can never by any possibility become


perfect; but if we are inherently perfect, we can see, understand and correct imperfect knowledge and use of all forces, for it is forces we are dealing with, not forms; it is ideas, not persons. We will begin to under stand that there is but one force or power— the Spiritual, and that all the various effects of that one power or force that we see and experience, are due to the direction given by conscious entities of many kinds in their different degrees. To understand the “divine perfections”, they must be applied universally, from the standpoint of the One Self—the Self of each, the Self of All.

While the Gita is laid out in the form of a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, as between a divine teacher and his disciple and may be so understood, it can also be applied in another way; Krishna is the Higher Self in each, and Arjuna, the mind, the mirror of external impressions; so that the dialogue can be profitably taken as a means to the realization of the Self, and Its adjustment and control of the lower elements and forces. The key-note of the ancient teaching is that the creative and sustaining power of all things and beings is not to be sought for externally; it can only be found at the very root of the nature


of each and every being. As it is put in the Upanishads, “The Self-Being pierced the openings outward, hence one looks outward, not within himself.” The wise, who seek the Eternal, look inward, for “that which lives and thinks in Man is the Eternal Pilgrim” (S. D.). It is necessary then for the student to dwell upon the idea that he acts for and as the Self of All; that the power to see all, and to know all, is potentially present with him, is in fact his real Self. He will at least then understand when Krishna says “Neither the assemblage of the Gods nor the Adept Kings know my origin, because I am the origin of all the Gods and of the Adepts”; “I am the origin of all; all things proceed from me,” that he is speaking of the Self of All and of each, and that the origin of that which is Eternal and unchanging is not to be discovered, for it is both Being and Non-Being. As Patanjali states it, “The Soul is the Perceiver; is vision itself, pure and simple, and it looks directly on ideas”. This means that each human being has the power to see and know all things, however restricted that power may be at any given time; that the restriction lies in the more or less narrow range of the ideas that he adheres to, and which form the basis for


his actions. This self-limited range of perception, not only prevents the full exercise of his powers as Self, but acts as a bar to the right understanding of his observation and experience; so, even the man of today may say, “I am the origin of all things; all things proceed from me”, for so far as he is concerned, his adopted ideas and acquired nature form the basis for all causes set in motion by him, and also constitute his field of observation and experience of effects. By the very power that resides in Self, Man creates good and evil, the delusion of separateness, and all imperfections. Divine perfections are universal; they can only be reached by acting for and as the Self in all things. This state can be obtained by a gradual elimination of all bases of action that make for separateness.

Arjuna begins by stating to himself (Krishna), the characteristics that to him designate the very highest place and power. “Thou art Parabrahm” (beyond Brahmâ) “thou art the Eternal Presence, the Divine Being; all-pervading; without beginning.” “Thou alone knowest thyself by thy Self.” “Thou alone can fully declare thy divine powers”. “How shall I, constantly thinking


of thee, be able to know thee?” “In what particular forms shall I meditate on thee ?“

The reply begins with: “I will make thee acquainted with the chief of my divine manifestations, for the extent of my nature is infinite. I am the Ego which is seated in the hearts of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all existing things.” He then goes on to recite that among the gods, the Self is the highest; among planetary bodies, the Sun expresses It; among the spirits of the air, the chief of these is an expression of It; among the sacred writings, It is the essence of these—the all-compelling song or sound; and so on through a long list of forms, powers and qualities understood by Arjuna. He concludes by saying, “I am, 0 Arjuna, the seed of all existing things, and there is not anything, whether animate or inanimate, which is with-out me”. “My divine manifestations are with-out end, the many which I have mentioned are by way of example. Whatever creature is permanent, of good fortune or mighty, also know it to be sprung from a portion of my energy. But what, 0 Arjuna, hast thou to do with so much knowledge as this? I established this whole universe with a portion of myself and remain separate.”


    Arjuna had asked Krishna under what particular form should the Self be worshipped. Krishna’s reply was “under all forms”, that there is nothing in the universe, animate or inanimate, which is without the Self. The seeker for Truth and knowledge must see the One Self in all things, and all things in the Self, and then act for and as the Self of All. All sacred writings are addressed to the individual, for it is from within the individual, and the individual alone, that reformation can begin and must be consummated. The study and application of the Gita tends to break down all ideas based upon separateness, and impresses upon the student that the way of true knowledge of the divine perfections lies in universal service, without distinction of caste, creed, sex, color or race. “Self-Knowledge is of loving deeds the child”




    ENTITLED “Vision of the Divine Form as including All Forms,” this chapter, like all the others, is to be applied to the individual, for while many classes of being, with their degrees of consciousness and power, are continually referred to, a clear indication is given that each Divine Ego is primarily the Self, and contains within his being every element that exists in the Universe.

Arjuna begins in this chapter by saying, “My delusion has been dispersed by the words which thou for my soul’s peace hast spoken concerning the mystery of the Adhyatma—the Spirit.” He had perceived that the One Self animates all forms of every kind; that the sustaining power, as well as the perceiving power is with in each and every form; but he desired’ to see and understand the form or container of Self; in other words, the means by which the One Self became focussed—so to speak—in the innumerable forms of existence.

Krishna in reply gives the key to the answer in one sentence. “Here in my body now be hold, 0 Gudakesha, the whole universe animate


and inanimate gathered here in one, and all things else thou hast a wish to see. But as with thy natural eyes thou art not able to see me, I will give thee the divine eye.” Here, it is evident that the body Krishna spoke of was a spiritual one, since it required the divine eye to see it, and that Arjuna could not perceive this highest form unless he himself possessed similar sight. Body implies form and substance, and in this relation must mean the highest conceivable primordial matter or substance, which to us might be comprehended as “luminosity and energy,” the source of all light and power.

The words “the Divine form as including all forms” imply that there are no forms but those which the Divine form includes, from which it may be understood that the substratum of every form is the same primordial substance spoken of in this chapter as “the divine form,” and that every being possesses a divine form which contains within it potentially every power and element. In this ancient teaching is to be found the true basis of evolution, an unfolding from within outwards.

The descriptive portions of this chapter may be better understood if the student will bear in mind that the Gita, as we have it in our


language, is a rendition from the Sanscrit,— the latter being a scientific language whose every letter has a numerical value, with a corresponding sound and meaning; whereas our language is that of a fighting and a trading people, with a paucity of terms for anything beyond the physical. One will not then make the mistake of thinking that such descriptions are due to a childish and ignorant imagery, but in reality to a knowledge of powers, forces, beings and states of consciousness.

Sanjaya (the recorder of the dialogue) says, “Han (Krishna) the mighty Lord of mysterious power, showed to the son of Pritha (Arjuna) his supreme form, with many mouths and eyes and many wonderful appearances, with many divine ornaments, many celestial weapons upraised; adorned with celestial garlands and robes, anointed with celestial ointments and perfumes, full of every marvelous thing, the eternal God whose face is turned in all directions.”

“The eternal God” is the Perceiver within the divine form; the “face . . . turned in all directions” is the “divine form,” which like a spherical mirror reflects all things. All differentiations of substance occur within the divine form, and each differentiation neces-


sitates its own peculiar modes of expression and appearances, corresponding to “mouths,” “eyes,” and “wonderful forms.”

It has been said of old that “the Deity geometrizes.” All forms evolve from within outwards. From the “point” whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere, a radiation equal in all directions begins, and establishes a circumference; a sphere within which the activity of the “point” is particularly confined. The “point” spreading out horizontally becomes a diameter dividing the sphere into positive and negative hemispheres, forming a basis for action and reaction. A further extension of the point vertically to the circumference divides the sphere into four parts, represented on a plane surface as a cross within the circle. Remembering that these extensions of the “point,” or center, are lines of force proceeding from the center and tending to return to it, we can conceive of the beginning of a revolution of the sphere whereby the ends of the vertical and horizontal lines extend towards each other, forming at first the ansated cross, and finally the square within the circle, in reality, a cube or six-sided figure within the sphere. The cube, if looked at from either side presents the appearance of four angles,


which, if we can conceive of them as being luminous points equidistant from the bright center, would be seen as a four-pointed star, the symbol and sign of the animal kingdom. If we can imagine Arjuna as seeing within the “divine form” all living lines of force and the forms produced by them, the four, the five, the six-pointed star, and the many-sided figures, all in motion and of wonderful brilliancy of light and of many colors, presenting the activities of all beings of every grade in the universe, we may obtain some conception of the descriptive parts of this chapter.

“I am Time matured, come hither for the destruction of all these creatures.” “Time matured” means the completion of cycles; everything that begins in time, ends in time; every action has its own cycle or period of return, or re-action; it is action and actions that produce cycles, and these latter range from those of momentary duration to those of a “great age,” as they are produced by separate entities, classes of beings, or the collectivity of actions by all beings of every grade concerned in any particular stream of evolution. The general reference here is to the impermanence of all forms or combinations of them. Change is necessitated by progress, for without change


there would be stagnation; hence the constant disintegration and re-integration of elements in ever changing relation and form, all brought about by the requirements of the Perceiver— the Real Man within—, who is the sole survivor through all changes.

“Thou art the one indivisible Being, and non-being, that which is supreme.” This statement can only be understood by each one applying it to himself. We know that we are not our bodies, for they constantly change, while we remain the same identity through all the changes. We are not our “minds,” for we change them whenever we find occasion to do so; if we were our minds we could not change them, and further, it is apparent that “change” cannot see “change ;“ only that which is permanent can see change. That permanency is the Real, the immortal Man, or, as the “Voice of the Silence” states it, “the Man that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike.” Each is the Self, the Perceiver; non-being, yet the cause and sustainer of being; as the Gita states it in this chapter, “thou art the Knower and that which is to be known ;“ “thou art the final supreme receptacle of this universe”—the garnerer of all experience when this universe is dissolved. At the end of the


Great Cycle, which includes all minor cycles, all beings return to the primordial state, plus the experience gained. The next great stream of evolution will proceed on the basis of the acquired knowledge of all beings concerned.

“Having been ignorant of thy majesty, I took thee for a friend, and have called thee ‘0 Krishna, 0 son of Yadu, 0 friend,’ and blinded by my affection and presumption. I have at times treated thee without respect in sport, in recreation, in repose, in thy chair, and at thy meals, in private and in public; all this I beseech thee, 0 inconceivable being. to forgive.”

Krishna is to be considered as not only representing the Self in all beings, but as a Divine Being embodied in a human form. Arjuna had asked to see the “divine form,” and having seen it, was awed by its grandeur and glory, and realized that he had conducted himself towards Krishna as a human being like himself, although of vastly greater learning: he therefore besought forgiveness for his presumption and asked Krishna to resume the form to which he was accustomed.

Here in this ancient scripture is pictured the ‘fatal error made again and again by mankind in the failure to recognize a divine teacher


when he appears among them in human guise. Buddha, Jesus, and many others before and after them, were treated by their contemporaries as ordinary human beings actuated by similar motives as the rest of mankind. They were opposed by the established interests, religious and otherwise, because the doctrines they taught were destructive of the hard and fast conclusions upon which those interests were founded; their speech and acts, although intended to instruct, enlighten, and benefit, were construed as
violations of law and custom, and were frequently characterized as criminal in nature. Even among their immediate disciples, suspicion, doubt, jealousy, fear, resentment and self-interest were to be found, none of which could have had existence had the real nature of the teacher been understood. These conditions prevented the true relation between teacher and disciple which is so necessary to the latter if he would benefit fully from that relation. It is true that all the disciples learned something in spite of their defects, but it is also true that the lack of intuitive perception of the divine nature of their teachers was the most important factor in the failure of those disciples to truly transmit the teachings they had received; for that lack closed


the door in themselves through which the divine enlightenment could come. Even Arjuna, loyal and devoted disciple as he was, had failed to perceive the wondrous nature of his teacher. It was not until that teacher by his favor and power had caused “the divine eye” in Arjuna to open that the ability to see on that plane of substance was gained. It is natural to suppose that Arjuna had by his unshaken confidence and constant devotion arrived at a stage of development where such help was merited.

It might be well for students of Theosophy to consider whether they may not have made a similar mistake in regard to Those who brought the message of Theosophy to the Western world, and so kept closed the only door through which direct help could come.

In the closing portion of the chapter Krishna says: “I am not to be seen, even as I have shown myself to thee, by study of the Vedas (scriptures), nor by mortifications, nor alms giving, nor sacrifices. I am to be approached and seen and known in truth by means of that devotion which has me alone as the object.”

The following, written by one of the Teachers, may serve as an explanation of the foregoing paragraph. “Ishwara, the spirit in man,


is untouched by any troubles, works, fruit of works, or desires, and when a firm position is assumed, with the end in view of reaching union with spirit through concentration, He (that spirit) comes to the aid of the lower self and raises it gradually to higher planes.” The “firm position” and concentration are one and the same; it means a lifetime’s devotion, an acting for and as the Self in all things.

“He whose actions are for me alone, who esteemeth me the supreme goal, who is my servant only, without attachment to the results of action and free from enmity towards any creature, cometh to me, 0 son of Pandu.”




    THE word “faith” as used in this chapter has a far deeper meaning than is usually given it. To have faith, is the holding of a conviction of the truth of that upon which one’s faith is fixed. There are many “faiths” in the world, some adopted because of ignorance, credulity and superstition: others, because they appeal to the desires of their adherents; others again, because of the partial truths they hold. That which is lacking in all these is “knowledge,” for a conviction held in ignorance only perpetuates ignorance and its results: a conviction held from desire only perpetuates desires and their results; a conviction held because of partial truths perceived indicates a little knowledge, but not enough to distinguish the error that is always mixed with partial truths. The “faith” spoken of by Krishna is that which is founded on self knowledge—or knowledge of the Self as being All, and in All. A reliance upon that Supreme Self, and an identification of one’s Self with It, presents an unchanging and unchangeable


basis from which the Truth in regard to Man and all Nature may be perceived. “True faith” can only exist when founded upon right knowledge.

In the reply of Krishna which closes the eleventh chapter, these words are found: “I am to be approached and seen and known in truth by means of that devotion which has me alone as an object.” Arjuna follows in the twelfth chapter with the question: “Among those of thy devotees who always thus worship thee, which take the better way, those who worship the indivisible and unmanifested, or those who serve thee as thou now art ?“

Krishna’s reply embodies the following:

“For those whose hearts are fixed on the unmanifested the labor is greater, because the path which is not manifest is with difficulty attained by corporeal beings.” A foot-note explains that “The difficulty here stated is that caused by the personality, which causes us to see the Supreme as different and separate from ourselves.” The tendency of human beings is to think and act as persons in their relations with other human beings and with manifested nature in general, and although they may ardently desire to act “for and as the Self,” they find themselves constantly falling under


the sway of the purely personal feeling of separateness.

The words “Or those who serve thee as thou now art,” refer to the form in which Krishna was best known to Arjuna. That this was a human form is indicated in the previous chapter, where Arjuna says, “Having been ignorant of thy majesty, I took thee for a friend, and have called thee ‘0 Krishna, 0 son of Yadu, 0 friend,’ and blinded by my affection and presumption, I have at times treated thee without respect, in sport, in recreation, in thy chair, and at thy meals, in private and in public; all this, I beseech thee, O inconceivable being, to forgive.” In this sentence Arjuna recognizes Krishna as a divine incarnation, a being who had reached perfection and who had voluntarily incarnated in order to help those still struggling in “this ocean of incarnations and death.” That such divine incarnations have not been infrequent, both before and since the time of Krishna, is shown by a study of the world’s great religions; the rationale and meaning of such incarnations is clearly shown in the “Secret Doctrine.”

The course of every Arjuna—and each one of us is just that—is first a recognition that


true knowledge must exist, and an ardent desire to obtain that knowledge. Then comes a search for the source of that knowledge; in that search lies the danger for the seeker. He finds many teachers, to knowledge. While as yet he has no means of determining the true from the false, he will accept ignorantly that teacher or teaching which his ideas and desires. This unf6rtunately is the course of most seekers. But there are to be found others who examine carefully the fundamental bases of the teachings offered, and who will accept only that one whose foundational propositions can be so universally applied that their truth be comes self-evident.

A resumé of the previous chapters will show that Krishna pointed out to Arjuna the various forms of belief and practice—or devotion— followed by men, and that these, though partial and erroneous, would finally lead to the one Truth if the seeker was sincere and devoted in his search for it. At the same time the One Reality or Truth was shown to be accessible to all men, and to be the highest, most direct and noblest path, leading to understanding wisdom and true happiness.

“ But if thou shouldst be unable at once


steadfastly  fix thy heart and mind on me, ‘strive then 0 Dhananjaya, to find me by constant in devotion.” Steadfastness is gained by a constant endeavor to become stead fast.

“If after constant practice, thou art still unable, follow me by actions performed for me; for by doing works for me thou shalt attain perfection.” The works referred to are special ones, designed and performed for the sake of the Supreme, all tending towards an elimination of the “personal idea” of separateness.

“ But if thou art unequal even to this, then, being self-restrained, place all thy works, failures and successes alike, on me, abandoning in me the fruit of every action. For knowledge is better than constant practice, meditation is superior to knowledge, renunciation the fruit o action o meditation; final emancipation immediately results from such renunciation.” It has been said that the Source of all beings is One; that the goal is One; but that the Path varies with each pilgrim. Hence each pilgrim is at a point of evolution or development where one or other of the steps presented is within reach. Each of these steps is shown to be leading in


the direction of the goal, but the aspirant must see them as only steps, the condition of his success being that he must ever keep the goal—union with the Higher Self—in view.

“ Being self—restrained,” means holding the personal self in abeyance. “Place all thy works, failures and successes alike, on me, abandoning in me the fruit of every action,” hardly needs an explanation; for the same instruction has been given so often in previous chapters of the Gita, such as— “Freedom comes from a renunciation of self-interest in the fruit of one’s actions.” Self-interest is always a matter of thinking; we can have no attachment for anything that we do not think about, nor can we have any dislike for a thing we do not think about; so if we find confronting us things right to be done, we should do them, regardless of whether they promise success or failure to ourselves. Krishna says that final emancipation immediately results from such renunciation, thus placing complete renunciation as attainment of the goal. Renunciation is superior to meditation because is by meditation upon the end in view that renunciation comes; meditation is superior to knowledge because right knowledge produces right meditation ;


knowledge is better than constant practice, because practice begets knowledge.

The remainder of the chapter should be read in connection with these notes, for there Krishna speaks of the qualities possessed by those who follow the path he shows. The chapter ends with these words,“But those who seek this sacred ambrosia—the religion of immortality—even as I have explained it, full of faith, intent on me above all others and united to devotion, are my most beloved.”




IN The Path magazine of October, 1890, Wm. Q. Judge published this Thirteenth Chapter entire, prefacing the publication with the following words:

“There are nowadays many professors of occultism, just as years ago there was a numerous brood of those who pretended to know about the philosopher’s stone. Both, however, were and are learned chiefly in repeating what they have heard of as occultism, with no substance or reality underneath all the profession. Now, as then, .,the mere incidentals of the true occultist’s practice are thought of, spoken about, and pursued. Phenomena or the power to produce them constitute the end and aim of these searchers’ efforts. But seek as we may, we will not find among them real knowledge, real experience, true initiation. Being on the wrong path, deluded by false light, they cannot do aught but mystify, annoy, and deceive those who put their trust in them. During the days of Rosicrucian fame there was some excuse for the mass of seekers, but since the old Hindu works have become gradu


ally known to everyone, that exculpation is at an end; for on every hand the note of warning is sounded, and everywhere are signs that show in what direction lies the true path. Particularly is this so in that wonderful book, the Bhagavad-Gita. In it however void of phenomena, however unattractive in respect to bait for psychic emotion, it points out the way, declares the mystic science, true devotion, right action.”

It has been said of this chapter that it contains the whole of occultism, by which is meant, that all-inclusive occultism which begins with the highest point of perception and realization—the Self within, and which regards action and reaction on every plane of manifestation, as the process by which individual and universal power and wisdom are attained.

That which stands in the way of knowledge is ignorance, and from the point of view of true occultism, the root of all ignorance lies in misconceptions as to one’s own essential nature.

In this chapter Krishna treats of devotion by means of the discrimination of the body from the soul, meaning thought and action based upon a knowledge of what is body and what is soul. He then speaks of “this perish-


able body” as including not only the physical form, but such elements as the following:

Ahankara-egotism, Buddhi-intellect or judgement, the unmanifest, invisible spirit; the ten centers of action, the mind and the five objects of sense; desire, aversion, pleasure and pain, persistency of life, and firmness, the power of cohesion. In this statement are included all that the ordinary mind conceives of as conscious existence, and purposely so, for if we are to arrive at an understanding of what is permanent, we must first see clearly what is impermanent and perishable.

In the divisions given by Krishna, Ahankara is placed first because in it is to be found the main cause of differences. Ahankara is the tendency to identify ourselves with forms and conditions; from that self-identifying attachment all the variations proceed; intellect or judgment is based upon that self-identification, as are all the likes and dislikes, modes, and channels of action.

If we can grasp the idea of the perishable nature of Ahankara-egotism, the perishable nature of the other elements can be understood. It is a fact that we do identify ourselves with the ever-changing perishable body, and with its conditions and relations, which


are also ever-changing. We say, “I am happy, or I am sad,” “I am sick or I am well,” “I am contented or I am dissatisfied,” all of these expressions being due to some form or condition which is changeable. We should observe that the self-identifying attachment is chiefly concerned with the present form and conditions, although we are aware that other forms and conditions have existed in the past, to which we were attached by like or dislike, and that still others will exist in the future.

Through all the changes of the past we have gone; through all the changes of the future we must go. The past changes have perished; the present changes are perishing; the future changes will also perish; but “we” remain through them all, unchanged and unchanging. If we can grasp this idea and hold to it, we will have taken the first step towards right knowledge and freedom, for, as an ancient sage has put it, “The soul is the Perceiver; is assuredly vision itself pure and simple; unmodified; and looks directly upon ideas.” In this chapter are the following statements of a similar kind: “I am the knower in ever mortal body ;” “As a single sun illuminateth the whole world, even so doth the One Spirit illumine every body ;” “He who seeth the Sup-


reme Being existing alike imperishable in all perishable things, sees indeed ;“ “Perceiving the same lord present in everything and every where, he does not by the lower self (Ahankara) destroy his own soul, but goeth to the supreme end.”

It must be apparent to every one who thinks, that to be immortal necessitates being change less, for that which changes has no stability. There could not be a continuity of consciousness even through one physical existence, un-less there is permanence of identity; the same “I” has noted the conditions, ideas, and feelings from childhood up to the present time, and will note them through all the years to come.

This Western mind of ours finds a difficulty in reconciling “changelessness” with “progression ;“ this is because of Ahankara, the tendency to identify ourselves with forms and conditions. Forms and conditions do change, but not of themselves; there is That which causes change to succeed change, and That is the indwelling spirit, which continually impels the instruments It has evolved towards further perfection. So progress and evolution mean an unfolding from within outward, a constant impulsion towards a better and better instrument for the use of the Spirit—the Self within.


    “The spirit in the body is called Maheswara, the Great Lord, the spectator, the admonisher, the sustainer, the enjoyer, and also Paramatma, the highest soul.” This sentence really tells the whole story; the Spirit sees, rectifies, sustains and enjoys through Its instrument or vehicle; the ideal of progress is a perfected vehicle which will contact and reflect in the ‘highest sense all worlds and all beings.

The term “body” has been used throughout this chapter, but it must not be supposed that only the physical body is meant. The physical body is included in the term, because itself is the product of involution and evolution from higher states of substance or matter. Krishna says “Know that Prakriti or nature, (sub stance), and Purusha the spirit, are without beginning. And know that the passions and the three qualities are sprung from Nature. Nature or prakriti is said to be that which operates in producing cause and effect in actions.” There can be no action unless there is something to be acted upon; that something is the highest substance; it is that which fills all space, and from which all denser forms of sub stance or matter have been evolved, and within which they are contained. Thus, the body represents on this plane all the other states of sub-


stance from which it has been evolved; it is surrounded by, and connected with them. A study of the Seven Principles of Man will give an understanding of this statement, if it is remembered that Man, the Thinker, is not any of his principles; they are his vehicles or instruments.

“Individual spirit or Purusha is said to be the cause of experiencing pain and pleasure” (through the connection with nature found in the instrument) ; “for spirit, when invested with matter or prakriti experienceth the qualities that proceed from Prakriti; its connection with these qualities” (and self-identification with them) “is the cause of its rebirth in good and evil wombs.”

‘ Krishna says that “the passions and the three qualities are sprung from nature” (prakriti). The three qualities represent attachment to bodily existence through love of that which is good and pleasant (sattva) through a propensity for passion and desire (rajas); and through heedlessness, which destroys the power of judgment. They are all due to self-identification with one form or an other of bodily existence.

That which informs and moves all manifestation is the One Spirit. That Spirit is


the Real and Permanent in all forms and beings; as Krishna says “it is wisdom itself, the object of wisdom, and that which is to be gained by wisdom ;“ it is “the receptacle and the seed ,“ it is the power to perceive, the consciousness, the life in all things. It is the cause of all manifestation and the holder of all knowledge gained thereby. Causing and perceiving change, It changes not. All power and all law proceed from It, are inherent in It. This is the meaning of “Spirit,” where Krishna says in conclusion: “Those who with the eye of wisdom thus perceive what is the difference between the body and Spirit, and the destruction of the illusion of objects, go to the Supreme.” By the “illusion of objects” is meant, the seeing of the objects as different from Spirit. Each object may be called an expression of Spirit through various evolved vehicles, whether these be called atoms, molecules, or forms composed of them.

In the “Voice of the Silence,” a statement of the same import may be remembered: “The eye of Spirit—the eye which never closes, the eye for which there is no veil in all her (Nature’s) kingdoms.”

All creatures, being essentially Spirit, strive (consciously or unconsciously) to realize their


spiritual being through contact psychical and physical with all manifested nature; some by meditation; some by service; some—mistakenly—by selfishness through separateness. While all paths lead to the Supreme, it is only when the Permanent as distinguished from the Perishable is realized, that erroneous paths are forsaken and the true Path followed.




THIS chapter, like all the chapters in the Gita, speaks of but one Supreme devotion, to which all other forms of human devotion must eventually give way, as the pilgrim strives for perfection.

“The great Brahmâ,” here refers to prakriti, matter or nature, for matter or nature is the cause of all action throughout the universe, as it is the basis by which action may take place. There can be no action unless there is something to be acted upon, hence, spirit and substance are held to be without beginning, that is, co-eternal and co-existent.

As there are great periods of non-manifestation as well as of manifestation, so for Spirit or Consciousness, and Substance or matter, there must be periods of latency and periods of activity which are synchronous with each other.

Prakriti or substance is “the womb” in which the Self or Spirit places “the seed” of thought or idea; from this, action and evolution begin. The following classification and discussion


of the three qualities illustrates the vital difference between the ancient, true psychology of the East, and what is termed Western psychology. Both abound in classifications; those of the East are much more numerous than those of the West and cover a far wider field; Western psychology in its classifications refers solely to mental states. The psychology of the Gita and the ancient sages classifies the moral states, treating the mental states as mere effects produced by moral conditions. Herein lies the secret of the hold the Gita has had all down the ages, and continues to have increasingly. It lays bare unsuspected bases of error; it discloses the most subtle forms of self-delusion ; it marks out the true course so painstakingly that the dullest mind cannot fail to grasp a clear perception of the path to true knowledge.

“ The three great qualities called sattva, rajas, and tamas—light, or truth; passion or desire; and indifference or darkness—are born from nature, and bind the imperishable soul to the body. The binding is by the attachment of the self or soul to the qualities perceived in nature. The sattva quality binds to rebirth through attachment to knowledge and that


which is pleasant; the fruit of righteous acts appertains to sattva.

Rajas is of the nature of desire, producing thirst and propensity; it binds the soul through action and its consequences. Being separative and compelling in quality, its fruit is gathered in pain.

Tamas is of the nature of indifference or darkness; as the chapter states, it is the deluder of all creatures; it imprisoneth the Ego in a body through heedless folly, sleep and idleness; ignorance, delusion and folly exist where tamas prevails.

Every human being is attached to physical existence through the qualities; it must not be supposed, however, that one of these qualities is present in one individual and absent in others, for all three qualities belong to nature and living being. The differences in human beings are found in the degrees of attraction which each one has for one or other of the qualities. As the chapter recites, “when tamas and rajas are overcome, then sattva prevaileth;” “when sattva and tamas are hidden, then rajas prevaileth ;” “when sattva and rajas diminish, then tamas is chiefly acting.”

Once the student understands the nature of


these three qualities or attractions found in physical existence, he is prepared to examine his own disposition in regard to them. Has he clearness of perception? Is he of a quiet and peaceful nature?
Is he attached to knowledge and that which is pleasant? If so, the quality of Sattva is there to some degree, even if only for the time being. To the individual, Sattva is that which seems good to him, even though his prevailing quality be Rajas or Tamas; so the bee seeks and appreciates the sweetness in the flower, but is ignorant of the flower’s nature or purpose. While every form in the three kingdoms of nature has its own peculiar quality, whether consciously or unconsciously expressed, yet the perceptions of these qualities depend upon the nature of the perceiver, his understanding and knowledge. Good and evil are relative; Nature may not be classified as part good and part bad. The goodness, the passion and desire, the ignorance, indifference and folly are in ourselves. The path to Sattvic perception and perfection begins with the feeling of responsibility for thought, word and deed, and ends in unselfishness.

“The characteristics of Rajas are love of gain, activity in action—meaning the holding of ex-


ternal action as the end in view; the initiating of works; restlessness and inordinate desire, producing thirst and propensity for possessions of any and every kind; loudness of speech; obtrusiveness in manner and action, and self- assertion in many ways.

Tamas shows itself in “indifference or darkness,” as the chapter notes. Here it would seem that “indifference” and “darkness” are synonymous terms; for that which we call indifference arises from ignorance of the true nature of things, events, and beings; it might be called the selfishness of ignorance. There are, of course, many degrees of Tamas, as many in fact as there are minds, for Tamas is indicated wherever there is ignorance, folly, idleness, and delusion in any degree.

Thus one may express Sattvic-Rajasic or Sattvic-Tamasic qualities; Rajasic-Tamasic or Rajasic-Sattvic; Tamasic-Sattvic or Tamasic Rajasic, in variable and varying degrees at different times according as one is carried away by personal feeling.

Even Sattva may be of that kind which expresses a harmless selfishness; the love of knowledge, of goodness and pleasantness for one’s own sake, (or the doing of righteous acts for the reward which follows them; while these


bring a fair and pleasant existence, the results obtained from them are temporary, and at the same time bind one to physical existence.

The highest path, and that which leads to emancipation, is “separation from the three qualities Of course, there is in reality no separation possible in the ordinary sense of the— “separation” here means non-identification. It is Ahankara, self-identifying attachment with the ever-changing forms, conditions and relations of physical existence that makes the real “separation” and binds men to re-birth in a world, which they make one of infinitely more suffering than of joy. “He, O son of Pandu, who doth not hate these qualities—illumination, action and delusion—when they appear, nor longeth for them when they disappear; who, like one who is of no party, sitteth as one unconcerned about the three qualities and undisturbed by them, who being persuaded that the three qualities exist, is not moved by them; who is of equal mind in pain and pleasure, with those who like or dislike the same whether praised or blamed; equally minded in honor or disgrace; the same toward friendly or unfriendly side, engaging only in necessary actions, such an one hath surmounted the qualities.”




    “MEN say that the Ashwattha, the eternal sacred tree, grows with its roots above and its branches below, and the leaves of which are the Vedas; he who knows this knows the Vedas.”

In these words Krishna presents a symbol used by men to indicate the universe as an eternal evolutionary stream, proceeding from a changeless Source. This Source, though changeless Itself, produces change in ever- increasing differentiations throughout the great period of manifestation. When the limit of differentiation is reached, the same impulse gradually indraws all differentiations toward homogeneity. This evolutionary process is graphically symbolized in the Secret Doctrine as the Great Breath, with its periodical out breathing and inbreathing. Neither the “out breathing” nor the “inbreathing,” nor both together, describe or constitute the Great Breath, for these are actions by That which has the power to so act. As Krishna states it in this chapter, “It is the Primeval Spirit from


which floweth the never-ending stream of conditioned existence.”

“The leaves of which are the Vedas,” refers specifically to the sacred scripture of the time; at the same time it should be understood as applicable to sacred scriptures of all times, for these are but formulations by men of portions of the eternal verities; formulations which present in concrete form such spiritual, philosophical and ethical ideals as exist among men at the time of formulation. These formulations are here properly symbolized by “leaves,” for they shoot forth from the branches (the three qualities), have their period of manifestation and are replaced by other “leaves”.

“Its form is not thus understood by men; it has no beginning, nor can its present constitution be understood, nor has it any end.” This sentence may be comprehended better if read in connection with the second paragraph of the chapter: “It is even a portion of myself which, having assumed life in this world of conditioned existence, draweth together the five senses and the mind in order that it may obtain a body and may leave it again.” This power to draw together and to disperse is that of the Supreme Spirit; it is the Self, the Real


Man, “a portion of myself” in every human form, as well as in all forms. It is not thus understood by men who are bound by Ahankara, the self-identifying tendency of the thirteenth chapter, but it may be realized by “those who are free from pride of self and whose discrimination is perfected, who have prevailed over the fault of attachment to action, who are constantly employed in devotion to meditation upon the Supreme Spirit, who have renounced desire and are free from the influence of the opposites known as pleasure and pain.” Knowledge of the Supreme Spirit comes from identification with It; realization comes from dwelling upon the thing to be realized. The “power to perceive” is the very essence of our being, our perceptions are not that power, they are the exercise of it; our perceptions are the bases of our actions; it is because we identify ourselves with our perceptions that we are deluded and bound by the actions that flow from them.

“There are two kinds of beings in the world, the one divisible, the other indivisible; the divisible is all things and the creatures”—that is, all forms and objects of every kind, since every form and object is composed of minor forms or expressions of life or consciousness.


    Our bodies, for instance, are composed of mineral, vegetable and animal lives and substance; these are borrowed from the three kingdoms below us and are returned to them; hence the term “divisible”. “The indivisible is called Kutastha, or he who standeth on high unaffected”. In every composite form—and all forms are that—there is a synthetic consciousness which has evolved and sustains that form; that synthetic power is unaffected by any changes in the form. In Man Kutastha would seem to indicate the Divine Ego, whose divinity and spiritual nature remain as such through all forms and changes.

“But there is another spirit designated as the Supreme Spirit—Paramatma—which permeates and sustains the three worlds. As I am above the divisible and superior to the indivisible, therefore both in the world and in the Vedas am I known as the Supreme Spirit. He who being not deluded knoweth me thus as the Supreme Spirit, knoweth all things and worships me under every form and condition.”

Devotion through Knowledge of the Supreme Spirit begins with a recognition that there is but one Spirit, the source and sustainer of everything that exists. As the Upanishads say “the Self shines in all, but in all it does


not shine forth”. The Self is in all things, and all things are in the Self. Whatever there may be of “shining” through any form or under any condition, that “shining” is from and of the Self. If this is recognized and admitted, we must begin to regard all things and beings in that light and act towards them upon that basis; in this way we act for and as the Self, and as we hold to and follow that practice, all ideas, habits and desires that conflict become overcome little by little, until at last we have the supreme power for good that comes with selflessness.




    IN this chapter Krishna begins with an enumeration of the “godlike” qualities. It will be noted that these qualities or virtues are not so numerous as they are comprehensive and complementary, and that taken as a whole, they fully express the title under which they are assembled—a godlike nature.

When we come to examine these qualities from the modern point of view and compare one with another, we may find it difficult to reconcile some with others: as for instance, “power” and “fearlessness” with “freedom from conceit”. Our individualistic tendencies incline us to think that a sense of superiority is necessarily present with power and the absence of fear. And again, if we take the simplest, most definite and most easily understood of these qualities, “not speaking of the faults of others”, we see only a pale and negative virtue. Yet fault-finding is the most universal and most insidious expression of conceit and self-assertion. Speaking of and pointing out the faults of others is a vice which masquerades under many forms of virtue but


in reality it is used to hide our own faults and present the appearance of a righteousness we do not possess—a vice which perpetuates self-delusion and negatives every apparent virtue. St. Paul, the Initiate, in I. Corinthians, Chap. XIII, says in this regard:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

Charity implies the possession of all the virtues, for they are all included in it; it implies the absence of fault-finding and condemnation. But charity is not negative; that which makes charity effective is knowledge, not sentiment; hence the need of discriminating between what are here called “godlike” and “demoniacal” natures.

We must therefore enquire into the meaning of Discrimination. It is a faculty, or power, whose range and value depend entirely upon the knowledge and understanding of the individual using it. All men use this faculty but in as many different degrees as exist between


the densest ignorance and the highest intelligence and wisdom. It may be called the ability to do the right thing, at the right time, and in the right place, on every plane of action. This necessitates a universal point of view, an understanding that covers the whole of nature, and a universal application of both.

The ancient wisdom of the Gita begins with universals and descends into particulars, this being the course of evolution. It posits One Spirit as animating all beings and all forms, and shows the universe to consist of an aggregation of evolved beings of innumerable grades, each with its own form and tendencies, and each acting according to its own acquired nature. Whatever accords with the acquired nature of each being, will appear to it as good; whatever obstructs or opposes it, will appear as evil; this being true, it is self-evident that good and evil are not things in themselves, but are appearances due to the of the perceiver towards things, forms, conditions and circumstances.

No such considerations as the above could be addressed to any being lower than Man, because he alone, of all those in physical forms, has reached that point of development of his acquired nature which enables him to grasp


that which is above, as well as that which is below, and permits him to extend his range of perceptions in all directions. He has reached that point at which he can know himself to be Immortal, and may, if he wills, bring his acquired nature in accord with his own spiritual nature. All of his perceptions are of the “pairs of opposites’; without these he could never find himself, nor understand the natures of those who are struggling to free themselves from the binding force of with forms and conditions.

It must be understood that Man the Eternal Pilgrim, is not his perceptions, for they are always relative. In all perceptions are to be found “the pairs of opposites”, for no perception could exist without them. Without darkness, there could be no perception of light; without pain, there could be no perception of pleasure; without sorrow, there could be no exception of joy; without sin, there could be no perception of holiness. That these perceptions are all relative to the Perceiver is shown in the fact that what is light to some is darkness to others; pleasure to some is pain to others; joy to some is sorrow to others; holiness to some is sin to others.

It is the lack of understanding of these facts


in nature that produces every kind of “demoniacal nature,” and there are many kinds. There are those who “know not the nature of action nor of cessation from action”; those who “deny that the universe has any truth in it, saying it is not governed by law, declaring that it hath no Spirit”; those who “seek by injustice and the accumulation of wealth for the gratification of their own lusts and appetites”; there are those who esteem “themselves very highly, self-willed, and full of pride, ever in pursuit of riches, they perform worship with hypocrisy and not even according to ritual (that which is known) but only for outward show; indulging in pride, selfishness, ostentation, power, lust and anger, they detest me (the One Spirit) who am in their bodies and in the bodies of others.” What an arraignment this is of present day religions and systems of thought! All sects present formulas which must be accepted on faith, but which cannot be proved to be true. Many systems of thought affirm the unproven and unprovable and on facts of experience, thus ignoring law and justice in the universe; they deny the effects they perceive, on one side of nature, and affirm as self-existent the effects they perceive of an opposite kind, deluding themselves by offsetting one ef-


fect against the other, and never perceiving the Cause of both effects. None of these religions and systems of thought as represented by their adherents have the faintest suspicion that they are but repetitions of the errors of past times and peoples; yet such is the fact known to every student of ancient literatures, religions and sciences, who has gained discrimination by means of “the pairs of opposites.”

As before said, true discrimination proceeds from a universal point of view, an understanding The ‘whole of nature, and a universal application of both. The universal point of view is that all manifested nature, including all things below Man, Man himself, and all beings above Man, as well as all forms, degrees of substance, and elements have proceeded from one Source, the One Spirit. The understanding comes from a realization that, from atom to the highest being, each is an expression of that One Spirit and that from the faintest glimmering of perception in the lowest kingdom to the heights of Divine Knowledge, the path is the same for all under Law. Then comes the application of the knowledge gained.

The student must raise himself beyond “the influence of the pairs of opposites.” He must


see that these are but the means and modes necessary to give him ever-widening perception, and he must realize that he is the perceiver and not any nor all of his perceptions. And as he raises himself above that influence, he will find others like himself, and still others beyond who are of a godlike nature—who love and understand; who possess what appear to others as virtues, but which to them are but actions with spiritual knowledge as director; who understand the vices of men to be due to ignorance and not to innate wickedness; and who hence have patience, power and fortitude, universal compassion, modesty and mildness. They know that that which makes for evil can be turned into that which makes for good; that which makes for destructiveness can be turned into that which makes for constructiveness; that which makes for separation and selfishness can be turned into that which makes for unity and selflessness. So knowing, all nature is theirs, every power and element in it are their instruments; not that the relativities of good and evil can or should be destroyed, but that the spiritual identity of all beings shall be realized at every stage, and only such thought and action prevail as will bring about a harmonious progress towards perfection.


    True Discrimination distinguishes between good, evil, and mixed natures. It knows that all human beings are inherently perfectible, and that the imperfections exist only in the lower acquired nature; that while this acquired nature exhibits itself in actions, its root lies in tendencies fostered by limited and erroneous conceptions. The effort is therefore not expended in classifications of comparative good and evil, nor is there any condemnation of any being because of the state in which he is found to be ; the causes that have led up to each state are shown, the right basis for thought and action is given, the landmarks upon the “small old path” that leads far beyond comparative good and evil are pointed out, and the pilgrim patiently helped, on every step of the way.




THE twelfth chapter treats of Devotion through Faith founded on knowledge of the Supreme Spirit; the present chapter explains the nature of the faith of those who while they neglect the precepts of the Scriptures (recorded sacred knowledge), yet worship in faith.

Krishna says that the faith of mortals is of three kinds and is born from their own disposition, and that this faith partakes of the qualities of Sattva, truth; Rajas, action; and Tamas, indifference. These three qualities are specifically treated in the fourteenth chapter and the necessity is there shown for the seeker after truth to raise himself above their influence. The twelfth, fourteenth and seventeenth chapters should be studied together, as they are intimately related.

“The faith of each one proceeds from the sattva quality . . . the embodied soul being gifted with faith, each man is of the same nature as that ideal on which his faith is fixed.” Here the word sattva should be given its highest definition, “the power to understand,”


which every embodied soul possesses, as contrasted with the limitations imposed upon that power by those who fix their faith upon some ideal of seeming good.

“Those who are of the disposition which ariseth from the prevalence of the sattva or good quality, worship the gods.” “Gods” is a generic term covering many classes of in visible beings; here the reference is to that class of being which the worshipper believes to be endowed with supernatural powers and virtues, and from which is sought guidance and favors.

“Those of the quality of rajas, worship the celestial powers, the Yakshas and Rakshasas.” That is, those in whom the desire for personal and selfish possessions and attainments prevail, seek the aid of, and attract, elemental beings who in an irresponsible way aid in such accomplishments; in other words, where the quality of rajas prevails, any external force that will aid in the fulfilment of desires is sought and welcomed, regardless of its nature or of the evil effect upon others. Such forces or beings belong to the separative and destructive side of nature.

“Other men in whom the dark quality of indifference or tamas predominates worship


elemental powers and the ghosts of dead men.” Here, the elemental powers are those of the lowest class, and among them are the so-called “spirits” of the séance room, galvanized into a factitious presentation of life and intelligence by the medium and sitters. This lowest class of elementaries and elementals belongs to the grossest part of invisible nature, is nearest to the physical, and most easily aroused. The opening of the doors to this class arises from ignorance of man’s true nature, and makes possible the delusion which fixes the faith on impermanent, irresponsible and vampirizing influences. Tamas also predominates in “those who practise severe self-mortification …..are full of hypocrisy and pride, longing for what is past and desiring more to come; they, full of delusion, torture the powers and faculties which are in the body, and me also, who am in the recesses of the innermost heart; know that they are of an infernal tendency.

It is a matter of common knowledge that many kinds of self-inflicted bodily punishments and tortures prevail among certain devotees in the East as a means of development, and that even among Western peoples a similar idea at one time prevailed extensively, and perhaps still exists in some quarters. There is


no doubt that these practices had their origin in a misunderstanding of a phrase frequently used in ancient scriptures “mortification of the body.” In this chapter Krishna sets forth very clearly the true meaning of that phrase in these words: “Honoring the gods (beings higher than Man), the brahmans (those who have divine knowledge), the teachers (of knowledge), and the wise; purity, rectitude, chastity and harmlessness are called mortification of the body.” That this is the true definition is shown by the fact that the body of itself is incapable of action, and is merely an organized aggregation of physical matter used and controlled by the thinker and actor within; it is this thinker and actor who needs to change his modes of thought and action. In changing from one mode of thought and action to an other of an opposite kind, the man finds him self at war with habits which he himself established; these have to be dis-estäblished by the institution of habits in accord with his changed basis. In a true sense this is mortification of the body, but from within outwards, not by any external means.

Similarly “austerities of speech” do not consist of a severity of tone and manner and a puritanical contempt for the average mortal


and his interests, a state due to an in-growing self-righteousness, but are practised and shown in “Gentle speech which causes no anxiety, which is truthful and friendly, and diligence in the reading of the Scriptures.”

“Mortification of the Mind” is not effected by imposed prayers and penances, nor by offerings to any supposed deity, but by “Serenity of mind, mildness of temper, silence, self-restraint, and absolute straightforwardness of conduct.”

The chapter continues by saying “This three fold mortification or austerity, practised with supreme faith, and by those who long not for a reward, is of the sattva quality.”

“But that austerity which is practised with hypocrisy, for the sake of obtaining respect for oneself, or for fame or favor, and which is uncertain and belonging wholly to this world, is of the quality of rajas.”

“Those austerities which are practised merely by wounding oneself, or from a false judgment, or for the hurting of another, are of the quality of tamas.”

The idea prevails among Western peoples that the value of a gift lies in its intrinsic value; Krishna presents the contrary fact that the value of a gift lies entirely in the attitude


of mind which accompanies the gift; this applies to gifts and benefactions of every kind, whether seasonal or not; whether to friends, relatives, acquaintances or stranger poor; it would be well to remember this in the season of Christmas and holiday giving.

Krishna specifies and qualifies the different attitudes as follows: “Those gifts which are bestowed at the proper time to the proper person, and by men who are not desirous of a return, are of the sattva quality, good and of the nature of truth.

“But that gift which is given with the expectation of a return from the beneficiary, or with a view to spiritual benefit flowing there from, or with reluctance, is of the rajas quality, bad, and partaketh of untruth.

“Gifts given out of place and season and to unworthy persons, without proper attention and scornfully, are of the tamas quality, wholly bad and of the nature of darkness.”

What a commentary this is upon our Western ideas of charity as ordinarily dispensed, and particularly upon our charitable organizations. How many gifts or charities are bestowed without a view to spiritual benefit flowing therefrom? How many subscriptions are made to charities with reluctance, or from a


desire to appear generous in the eyes of men? How many are given “out of place and season and to unworthy persons, without proper attention and scornfully?” Each one must answer for himself. It takes a very wise man to do good works without danger of doing in calculable harm; one such might by his great intuitive powers know whom to relieve and whom to leave in the mire that is their best teacher. The poor and wretched themselves will tell anyone who is able to win their confidence what disastrous mistakes are made by those who come from a different class and endeavor to help them. Kindness and gentle treatment will sometimes bring out the worst qualities of a man or woman who has led a fairly presentable life when kept down by pain and despair. The Gita teaches that the causes of misery do not lie in conditions or circumstances, but in the mistaken ideas and actions of the man himself; he reaps what he has sown in ignorance. A better knowledge of the nature of man and the purpose of life is needed; as this is acquired, the causes of misery are gradually eliminated. No greater charity can be bestowed upon suffering humanity than right knowledge that leads to right action. The possessor of this knowledge will be filled


with divine sympathy for all sufferers; he will relieve only such distresses as should be relieved in each and every case, while at the same time he will impart as much of his greater knowledge as the sufferer can receive and apply. But he will not let his left hand know what his right hand does; he will have no thought of reward nor even of gratitude; he will simply do all that he can and the best he knows how to do to raise the sufferer to a higher plane of thought and action, while he affords sufficient physical relief to give a foot hold.

This chapter is the last but one of the Bhagavad-Gita, and perhaps as a chapter is the most comprehensive one, for it presents the One True Faith founded upon knowledge of the Supreme Spirit, the Self within, the Knower in every mortal body, and three kinds of false faiths fixed upon externalities.’ It considers true practices as the natural outcome of true faith, in contrast with erroneous practices based upon false faiths. It shows clearly that spiritual reliance placed upon any external being, thing or practice prevents right knowledge and true progress, and cannot fail to bring about detrimental karmic results.

Knowledge of and action for the Self of


all—the Self within, is necessary in every thought, word and act, even in the providing of food for the body. Krishna does not enjoin any particular kind of food; he says that kind of food for each one is best “which in creases the length of days, vigor and strength, which keeps one free from sickness, of tranquil mind and contented, and which is savory, nourishing, of permanent benefit and congenial to the body, is that which is attractive to those in whom the sattva quality prevaileth.”

There are many who fix their faith on particular kinds of food and who endeavor to convert others to that particular kind of faith. They, like all others who fix their faith upon externalities, are “false pietists of bewildered soul.” The question never is of kinds of food, but of fitness for each particular case; for when all is said and done, each body extracts from any kind of food only that which conforms to the nature of the possessor of the body, and that nature is subject to change from within. The main thing to be observed is to keep the body efficient as an instrument for the soul who inhabits it, by whatever means and food may be found necessary for that purpose. Here, like and dislike are set aside and only the purpose of soul is considered.


    “The food which is liked by those of the rajas quality is over bitter, too acid, excessively salt, hot, pungent, dry and burning, and causeth unpleasantness, pain and disease.” The faith being fixed on desire for personal possessions and attainments, desire becomes cumulative; each object obtained only stimulates the desire for more; this produces corresponding and cumulative tendencies in the body.

“Whatever food is such as was dressed the day before, that is tasteless or rotting, that is impure, is that which is preferred by those in whom predominates the quality of tamas or indifference.” Where tamas prevails there is a tendency for and affiliation with the lower elementals and elements of nature; the destructive and disintegrating side.

The last section of this chapter refers to the three-fold designation of the Supreme Spirit as Om, Tat, Sat, the triune Deity in its triple aspects corresponding to creation, preservation and destruction while re-creating, or in order to re-create. The word Om or Aum is at once an invocation of the highest within, a benediction, an affirmation, and a promise; its proper use is said to lead to a realization of the Self within. The Aum contains within itself all the aspects and implies the Universe controlled


by the Supreme Spirit. It represents the constant current of meditation which ought to be carried on by every man, even while engaged in the necessary duties of life. There is for every conditioned being a target at which the aim is constantly directed; in the Mundakya Upanishad there is the following, “Om is the bow, the Self is the arrow, Brahman is called its aim. It is to be hit by a man who is not thoughtless; and then as the arrow becomes one with the target, he will become one with Brahman. Know him alone as the Self, and leave off other words. He is the bridge of the Immortal. Meditate on the Self as Om.”




    THE chapter begins with this question from Arjuna: “I wish to learn, O great-armed one, the nature of abstaining from action and of giving up of the results of action, and also the difference between these two.”

The whole of the chapter is devoted to the answer. Not only are the nature of abstaining from action and the giving up of the results of action involved in the reply, but an understanding of the very nature of action itself and the causes and bases of action. Relating to the “agents of action,” Krishna says:
“Learn, O great-armed one, that for the accomplishment of every work five agents are necessary as is declared. These are, the substratum, the agent, the various sorts of organs, the various and distinct movements, and with these, as fifth, the presiding deities. These five agents are included in the performance of every act which a man undertaketh, whether with his body, his speech, or his mind.” Again, that “whoever, because of the imperfection of his mind, beholdeth the real self as the agent, thinketh wrongly and seeth not aright.” It is


thus evident that it is not the “real self” that acts, a statement that has been reiterated throughout the previous chapters, and one that it is necessary to understand before the nature of action is comprehended.

Prakriti or nature, is the cause of all action throughout the universe, as it is the basis by which action may take place; this is true on every plane of being. In the thirteenth chapter are these words: “Know that prakriti or nature and purusha the spirit are without beginning. And know that the passions and the three qualities are sprung from nature. Nature or prakriti is said to be that which operates in producing cause and effect in actions; individual spirit or purusha is said to be the cause of experiencing pain and pleasure. For spirit when invested with matter or prakriti experienceth the qualities which proceed from prakriti.” This passage throws some light on the meaning of “the substratum :” it is substance in its primordial state from which all differentiations proceed, and within which all differentiations are contained, and therefore forms the basic agent of all action; the word “agent” in the classification may be understood as the power which prompts to action; for instance, the personal self with its concrete and


limited ideas, impels the organs of the body and the necessary movements to carry out the prevailing idea. The fifth “agent” is called “the presiding deities”; this latter term may be explained in this way: our bodies are composed of small lives of many different kinds, each of those kinds acting only in response to particular impulses; each class acts according to its own nature, and as a class constitutes a hierarchy of being, devas or deities.

It is understood, of course, that That from which all power to perceive or to cause action emanates is the Self of All; that power be comes particularized, so to speak, in the Individual Self, who on higher planes is the impeller of actions on those planes; on the physical plane, the Personal self is but a temporary aspect of the Individual Self, this aspect being sometimes called the “false ego” because of its delusion; it is this personal self which consciously or unconsciously to itself impels the lives in his bodily organs to action.

Now we may understand better this passage from the fifth chapter: “the devotee who knows the divine truth thinketh, ‘I am doing nothing’ in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving, sleeping, breathing; even when speaking, letting go or taking, opening or closing his


eyes, he sayeth, ‘the senses and organs move by natural impulse to their appropriate objects.’ ” It has been said that the Self neither acts nor is acted upon; this must be true also of the Personal self, for, as the thirteenth chapter says: “the spirit in the body is called Mahaeswara, the Great Lord, the spectator, the admonisher, the sustainer, the enjoyer, and also the Paramatma, the highest soul.” The self or spirit in the body is deluded by the three qualities perceived in nature, liked or disliked, and identifies itself with the actions it induces. “He who seeth that all his actions are performed by nature only, and that the self within is not the actor, sees indeed.” There is also this passage, “The path of action is obscure. That man who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is wise among men.”

If we reconstruct our ideas in regard to action as above indicated, it will throw a new light on karmic responsibility, connecting us more intimately with all selves, all lives small and great, and assist us to a better realization of acting for and as the Self. Having determined, to some extent at least, the nature of action, we have aroused to that extent what Krishna calls “the discerning power,” which is also called Buddhi, direct cognition, the high-


est intellection, the power of judgment, according to its various degrees of activity. These degrees flow from attraction to one or other of the three qualities found in nature, and are described as follows: “The discerning power that knows how to begin and to renounce, what should and what should not be done, what is to be feared and what not, what holds fast and what sets the soul free, is of the sattva quality. That discernment, 0 son of Pritha, which does not fully know what ought to be done and what not, what should be feared and what not, is of the passion-born rajas quality. That discriminating power which is enveloped in obscurity, mistaking wrong for right and all things contrary to their true intent and meaning, is of the dark quality of tamas.”

With the “discerning power” there must also be the “power of steadfastness,” for unless we are constant in devotion to the higher life, and the ideal of a conscious life in spirit, not matter, we will be recreant to the best we know. Having reached the power of discernment and having been shown the path which to us is peculiarly ours, we should set aside all other considerations that tend to draw us from it; we should cultivate and practise “That power of steadfastness holding the man to-


gether, which by devotion controls every motion of the mind, the breath, the senses and the organs ;“this, as the chapter says, “partaketh of the sattva quality ;“ that is, the whole instrument is used for the best and highest purpose only.

The “power of steadfastness” may exist without the highest power of discernment, as in the one who looking for the fruits of action, cherishes duty, pleasure and wealth from the point of view of desire or rajas; or in the man of low capacity who stays fast in drowsiness, fear, grief, vanity and rashness, bound by the tamasic quality.

If we have determined for ourselves the nature of action, the goal of true discernment, and steadfastness which is harmony of thought, will, and feeling, as well as an action on the lines of our determination, we can only have done so through something of that “wisdom which perceives in all nature one single principle, indivisible and incorruptible, not separate in the separate objects seen” and which is of the sattva quality. It is the changeless Self within, which, if we follow the lines of our determination, we will come to realize more and more.

There can be no realization of Self in that


kind of knowledge “which perceives different and manifold principles as present in the world of created beings,” or in “that knowledge, wholly without value, which is mean, attached to one object alone as if it were the whole, which does not see the true cause of existence.”

All our thoughts give rise to action among the lives which compose our astro-physical instrument, and, as we never cease thinking, action continually goes on, for, as often said, “thought is the real plane of action.” Even though we may not contemplate any immediate bodily act, we may by our thoughts accumulate a tendency in the lives of our instrument which will eventually result in outward action when ever favoring conditions permit, and we will fail victims to our lack of discernment and steadfastness, as well as involve others in our fate.

“Now hear what are the three kinds of pleasure wherein happiness comes from habitude and pain is ended.” We may get some understanding of this sentence if we consider that when some ardently desired aim or object is sought and found, there is at first happiness, and the pain of non-attainment is ended. But the happiness does not remain the same; it resolves itself into contentment and habitude,


until the latter becomes wearisome, and another aim or object is sought.

“That which in the beginning is as poison and in the end as the water of life, and which arises from a purified understanding, is declared to be of the sattva quality.” The pursuit of desires brings a beginning of sweetness and an ending of bitterness; the pleasure gained from idleness, carelessness and indifference stupifies the soul. To arouse oneself from desiring, or from carelessness and indifference is at first “as poison,” but with a purified understanding becomes “the water of life.”

The statement that “there is no creature on earth nor among the hosts of heaven who is free from these three qualities which arise from nature,” points to the fact that the three qualities exist on every plane of being.

The hard and fast hereditary castes of India of the present day are not meant by the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras of this chapter. In earlier days, before the ancient teaching had become materialized, marriage was a sacred and religious contract; family life was so understood and conducted as to provide proper environment for egos of the same nature as the family on spiritual, psychical and other lines. Then there existed natural castes


where all lines of heredity conjoined; in these degenerate days the castes are mixed and there are those born in castes whose nature does not conform to the original caste whose name and privileges they take and abuse. Nevertheless, the castes exist everywhere; but no longer does social position or physical environment distinguish them. In all countries at the present time, there are those in high place and power who by nature are Sudras, and many who are Brahmans by nature are lower in our social scale, for this is Kali Yuga when the powers of darkness are in the ascendancy.

The ancient castes performed duties which. were the outcome of their several natures, and were so recognized by all. There was no pride of caste nor jealousy and there existed an ideal community of mutual helpfulness; hence, the duties of the castes were “determined by the qualities which predominated in each.”

“Men being contented and devoted to their own proper duties (that for which their nature fits them) attain perfection.” “If (in all that he does) a man maketh offering to the Supreme Being who is the source of the works of all and by whom this universe was spread abroad, he thus obtaineth perfection.” “The perform-


ance of the duties of a man’s own particular calling, although devoid of excellence, is better than doing the duty of another, however well performed; and he who fulfills the duties obligated by nature does not incur sin. A man’s own natural duty, even though stained with faults, ought not to be abandoned. . . . The highest perfection of freedom from action is attained through renunciation by him who has an unfettered mind and subdued heart.”

Dharma is the word which in our language is translated as “duty,” but it has a much wider range and meaning than that which we accord to the word “duty.” There are many who think that duty is something that others think we should do; others again consider “duty” to be irksome, and as actions to be performed under duress, and therefore to be avoided; it is therefore necessary to grasp the meaning of the word “duty” as used in the Gita. Dharma means “the sacred Law,” the fulfillment of our karmic destiny through many incarnations, the working out and elimination of defects which have brought us into earth life under the conditions in which we find ourselves, which conditions we should feel and know to be the very opportunities needed for our further progress. This is why one of the great Teachers wrote,


    “Duty is the royal talisman; duty alone will lead us to the goal.”

Krishna enumerates the attainments by which “a man is fitted to be the Supreme Being. And having thus attained to the Supreme, he is serene, sorrowing no more, and no more desiring, but alike towards all creatures he attains to supreme devotion to me. By this devotion to me he knoweth fundamentally who and what I am and having thus discovered me he enters into me without any intermediate condition. And even the man who is always engaged in action shall attain by my favor to the eternal and incorruptible abode, if he put his trust in me alone. . . . And if, indulging self-confidence, thou sayest ‘I will not fight,’ such a determination will prove itself vain, for the principles of thy nature will impel thee to engage. Being bound by all past karma to thy natural duties, thou, 0 son of Kunti, wilt involuntarily do from necessity that which in thy folly thou wouldst not do.”

“There dwelleth in the heart of every creature, 0 Arjuna, the Master—Ishwara—who by his magic power causeth all things and creatures to revolve mounted upon the universal wheel of time. Take sanctuary with him alone, 0 son of Bharata, with all thy soul; by


his grace thou shalt obtain supreme happiness, the eternal place.”

‘Wherever Krishna, the supreme Master of devotion, and wherever the son of Pritha, the mighty archer may be, there with certainty are fortune, victory, wealth, and wise action.” Each one is Krishna and Arjuna; where these two are joined together, all nature makes obeisance.

In closing this series of comments on “The Bhagavad-Gita,” we need, perhaps, give no reminder that only the surface of the teachings contained in the ancient book is touched upon. The view-point taken, out of the seven different applications possible, is that of the individual, in accordance with Mr. Judge’s early comments, but even from that view point, the field has been by no means fully covered. It is hoped, however, that enough has been said to afford at least a little more light to those who aspire to learn the Science of Devotion…

Death and After?


Death – And After ?


Annie Besant 




68, Great Russell Street, London, WClB 3BU, England

First Edition 1893 


This book by Dr. Annie Besant has been through several Editions. The following is the Preface that appeared in the First Edition.

FEW words are needed in sending this little book out into the world. It is the third of a series of Manuals designed to meet the public demand for a simple exposition of Theosophical teachings. Some have complained that our literature is at once too abstruse, too technical, and too expensive for the ordinary reader, and it is our hope that the present series may succeed in supplying what is a very real want. Theosophy is not only for the learned; it is for all. Perhaps among those who in these little books catch their first glimpse of its teachings, there may be a few who will be led by them to penetrate more deeply into its philosophy, its science, and its religion, facing its abstruser problems with the student’s zeal and the neophyte’s ardour. But these Manuals are not written for the eager student, whom no initial difficulties can daunt; they are [v] written for the busy men and women of the work-a-day world, and seek to make plain some of the great truths that render life easier to bear and death easier to face. Written by servants of the Masters who are the Elder Brothers of our race, they can have no other object than to serve our fellow-men. [vi]



Views of Death


The Immortal and the Perishable


The Fate of the Body


The Fate of the Etheric Double


Kāmaloka, Desire-land, and the Fate of Passions and Desires


Kāmaloka, The Shells


Kāmaloka, The Elementaries




The Devachanī


The Return to Earth




Communications between Earth and other Spheres


Appendix – Suicides



WHO does not remember the story of the Christian missionary in Britain, sitting one evening in the vast hall of a Saxon king, surrounded by his thanes, having come thither to preach the gospel of his Master; and as he spoke of life and death and immortality, a bird flew in through an unglazed window, circled the hall in its flight, and flew out once more into the darkness of the night. The Christian priest bade the king see in the flight of the bird within the hall the transitory life of man, and claimed for his faith that it showed the soul, in passing from the hall of life, winging its way not into the darkness of night, but into the sunlit radiance of a more glorious world. Out of the darkness, through the open window of Birth, the life of a man comes to the earth; it dwells for a while before our eyes; into the darkness, through the open window of Death, it vanishes out of our sight. And man has questioned ever of Religion, Whence comes it? Whither goes it? and the answers have varied with the faiths. [Page 1]  Today, many a hundred year since Paulinus talked with Edwin, there are more people in Christendom who question whether man has a spirit to come any whence or to go any whither than, perhaps, in the world’s history could ever before have been found at one time. And the very Christians who claim that Death’s terrors have been abolished, have surrounded the bier and the tomb with more gloom and more dismal funeral pomp than have the votaries of any other creed. What can be more depressing than the darkness in which a house is kept shrouded, while the dead body is awaiting sepulture? What more repellent than the sweeping robes of lusterless crape, and the purposed hideousness of the heavy cap in which the widow laments the “deliverance” of her husband “from the burden of the flesh”?  What more revolting than the artificially long faces of the undertaker’s men, the drooping “weepers”, the carefully arranged white handkerchiefs, and, until lately, the pall-like funeral cloaks?  During the last few years, a great and marked improvement has been made. The plumes, cloaks, and weepers have well-nigh disappeared. The grotesquely ghastly hearse is almost a thing of the past, and the coffin goes forth heaped over with flowers instead of shrouded in the heavy black velvet pall. Men and women, though still [2] wearing black, do not roll themselves up in shapeless garments like sable winding-sheets, as if trying to see how miserable they could make themselves by the imposition of artificial discomforts. Welcome common-sense has driven custom from its throne, and has refused any longer to add these gratuitous annoyances to natural human grief.

In literature and in art, alike, this gloomy fashion of regarding Death has been characteristic of Christianity. Death has been painted as a skeleton grasping a scythe, a grinning skull, a threatening figure with terrible face and uplifted dart, a bony scarecrow shaking an hourglass – all that could alarm and repel has been gathered round this rightly-named King of Terrors. Milton, who has done so much with his stately rhythm to mould the popular conceptions of modern Christianity, has used all the sinewy strength of his magnificent diction to surround with horror the figure of Death.


The other shape,

If shape it might be called, that shape had none

Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,

Or substance might be called that shadow seemed,

For each seemed either; black it stood as night,

Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell,

And shook a dreadful dart; what seemed his head

The likeness of a kingly crown had on.

Satan was now at hand, and from his seat

The monster moving onward came as fast,

With horrid strides; hell trembled as he strode … [3]

… So spoke the grisly terror; and in shape

So speaking, and so threatening, grew tenfold

More dreadful and deform …

… but he, my inbred enemy,

Forth issued, brandishing his fatal dart,

Made to destroy: I fled, and cried out Death!

Hell trembled at the hideous name, and sighed

From all her caves, and back resounded Death.* [* Book ii., from lines 666-789. The whole passage bristles with horrors.]


That such a view of Death should be taken by the professed followers of a Teacher said to have “brought life and immortality to light” is passing strange. The claim, that as late in the history of the world as a mere eighteen centuries ago the immortality of the Spirit in man was brought to light, is of course transparently absurd, in the face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary available on all hands. The stately Egyptian Ritual with its Book of the Dead, in which are traced the post-mortem journeys of the Soul, should be enough, if it stood alone, to put out of court for ever so preposterous a claim. Hear the cry of the Soul of the righteous:


O ye, who make the escort of the God, stretch out to me your arms, for I become one of you (xvii. 22).

Hail to thee, Osiris, Lord of Light, dwelling in the mighty abode, in the bosom of the absolute darkness. I come to thee, a purified Soul; my two hands are around thee (xxi. 1).

I open heaven; I do what was commanded in Memphis. I have knowledge of my heart; I am in possession of my heart, I am in possession of my arms, [4] I am in possession of my legs, at the will of myself. My Soul is not imprisoned in my body at the gates of Amenti (xxvi. 5, 6).


Not to multiply to weariness quotations from a book that is wholly composed of the doings and sayings of the disembodied man, let it suffice to give the final judgment on the victorious Soul:


The defunct shall be deified among the Gods in the lower divine region, he shall never be rejected. … He shall drink from the current of the celestial river. … His Soul shall not be imprisoned, since it is a Soul that brings salvation to those near it. The worms shall not devour it (clxiv. 14-16).


The general belief in Reincarnation is enough to prove that the religions of which it formed a central doctrine believed in the survival of the Soul after Death; but one may quote as an example a passage from the Ordinances of Manu, following on a disquisition on metempsychosis, and answering the question of deliverance from rebirths.


Amid all these holy acts, the knowledge of self (should be translated, knowledge of the Self, Ātmā) is said (to be) the highest; this indeed is the foremost of all sciences, since from it immortality is obtained.* [* xii. 85. Trans. of Burnell and Hopkins.]


The testimony of the great Zarathustrean Religion is clear, as is shown by the following, translated from the Avesta, in which, the journey of the Soul after [5] death having been described, the ancient Scripture proceeds:


The soul of the pure man goes the first step and arrives at (the Paradise) Humata; the soul of the pure man takes the second step and arrives at (the Paradise) Hukhta; it goes the third step and arrives at (the Paradise) Hvarst; the soul of the pure man takes the fourth step and arrives at the Eternal Lights.

To it speaks a pure one deceased before, asking it: How art thou, O pure deceased, come away from the fleshly dwellings, from the earthly possessions, from the corporeal world hither to the invisible, from the perishable world hither to the imperishable, as it happened to thee – to whom hail!

Then speaks Ahura-Mazda: Ask not him whom thou asketh, (for) he is come on the fearful, terrible, trembling way, the separation of body and soul.* [* From the translation of Dhunjeebhoy Jamsetjee Medhora, Zoroastrian and some other Ancient Systems, xxvii.]


The Persian Desatir speaks with equal definiteness. This work consists of fifteen books, written by Persian prophets, and was written originally in the Avestaic language; “God” is Ahura-Mazda, or Yazdan:


God selected man from animals to confer on him the soul, which is a substance free, simple, immaterial, non-compounded and non­appetitive. And that becomes an angel by improvement.

By his profound wisdom and most sublime intelligence, he connected the soul with the material body.

If he (man) does good in the material body, and has a good knowledge and religion he is Hartasp. …

As soon as he leaves this material body, I (God) take him up to the world of angels, that he may have an interview with the angels, and behold me.

As if he is not Hartasp, but has wisdom and abstains from vice, I will promote him to the rank of angels. [6]

Every person in proportion to his wisdom and piety will find a place in the rank of wise men, among the heavens and stars. And in that region of happiness he will remain for ever.* [* Trans. by Mirza Mohamed Hadi, The Platonist, 306.]


In China, the immemorial custom of worshipping the Souls of ancestors shows how completely the life of man was regarded as extending beyond the tomb. The Shū King – placed by Mr. James Legge as the most ancient of Chinese classics, containing historical documents ranging from B. C. 2357-627 – is full of allusions to these Souls, who with other spiritual beings, watch over the affairs of their descendants and the welfare of the kingdom. Thus Pan-kang, ruling from B.C. 1401-1374, exhorts his subjects:


My object is to support and nourish you all. I think of my ancestors (who are now) the spiritual sovereigns. … Were I to err in my government, and remain long here, my high sovereign (the founder of our dynasty) would send down on me great punishment for my crime, and say, “Why do you oppress my people?” If you, the myriads of the people, do not attend to the perpetuation of your lives, and cherish one mind with me, the One man, in my plans, the former kings will send down on you great punishment for your crime, and say, “Why do you not agree with our young grandson, but go on to forfeit your virtue?” When they punish you from above, you will have no way of escape. … Your ancestors and fathers will (now) cut you off and abandon you, and not save you from death.* [* The Sacred Books of the East, iii. 109, 110.]


Indeed, so practical is this Chinese belief, held today as in those long-past ages, that “the change that men call Death” [7] seems to play a very small part in the thoughts and lives of the people of the FloweryLand.

These quotations, which might be multiplied a hundred-fold, may suffice to prove the folly of the idea that immortality came to “light through the Gospel”. The whole ancient world basked in the full sunshine of belief in the immortality of man, lived in it daily, voiced it in its literature, went with it in calm serenity through the gate of Death.

It remains a problem why Christianity, which vigorously and joyously re-affirmed it, should have growing in its midst the unique terror of Death that has played so large a part in its social life, its literature, and its art. It is not simply the belief in hell that has surrounded the grave with horror, for other Religions have had their hells, and yet their followers have not been harassed by this shadowy Fear. The Chinese, for instance, who take Death as such a light and trivial thing, have a collection of hells quite unique in their varied unpleasantness. Maybe the difference is a question of race rather than of creed; that the vigorous life of the West shrinks from its antithesis, and that its unimaginative common-sense finds a bodiless condition too lacking in solidity of comfort; whereas the more dreamy, mystical East, prone to meditation, and ever [8] seeking to escape from the thralldom of the senses during earthly life, looks on the disembodied state as eminently desirable, and as most conducive to unfettered thought.

Ere passing to the consideration of the history of man in the post-mortem state, it is necessary, however briefly, to state the constitution of man, as viewed by the Esoteric Philosophy, for we must have in mind the constituents of his being ere we can understand their disintegration.  Man then consists of


The Immortal Triad: the Individual. Ātmā, or Spirit as Will.
Buddhi, or Spirit as Intuition.
Manas, or Spirit as Intellect.
The Perishable Quaternary: the Person. Lower Manas, or Mind.
Kāma, or Desire.
Prāna, as Energising Vitality.
Prāna, as Automatic Vitality.


If we consider the bodies of man, the dense body is the visible, tangible outer form, composed of various tissues. The etheric double is the ethereal counterpart of the body, composed of the physical ethers. Prāna is vitality, the integrating energy that co-ordinates the [9] physical molecules and holds them together in a definite organism; it is the life-breath within the organism, the portion of the universal Life-Breath, appropriated by the organism during the span of existence that we speak of as “a life”, and appears in two forms in the dense and etheric parts of the physical body. Kāma is the aggregate of appetites, passions, and emotions, common to man and brute, the emotions evolving to a higher point in man under the play of the lower mind. Manas is the Thinker in us, the Intellect. Buddhi is the aspect of the Spirit, which manifests above the Intellect.

Now the link between the Immortal Triad and the Perishable Quaternary is Intellect, which is dual during earth life, or incarnation, and functions as Intellect and Mind. Intellect sends out a Ray, Mind, which works in and through the human brain, functioning there as brain-consciousness, as the ratiocinating intelligence. This mingles with Desire, the passional nature, the passions and emotions thus becoming a part of Mind, as defined in Western Psychology. And so we have the link formed between the higher and lower natures in man, this Desire-Mind belonging to the higher by its intellectual, and to the lower by its emotional, elements. As this forms the battleground during life, [10] so does it play an important part in post-mortem existence. We might now classify our seven principles a little differently, having in view this mingling in Desire­Mind of perishable and imperishable elements:




Conditionally Immortal
 Energising Vitality
 Automatic Vitality


Some Christian writers have adopted a classification similar to this, declaring Spirit to be inherently immortal, as being Divine; Soul to be conditionally immortal, i.e., capable of winning immortality by uniting itself with Spirit; Body to be inherently mortal. The majority of uninstructed Christians chop man into two, the Body that perishes at Death, and the something – called indifferently Soul or Spirit – that survives Death. This last classification – if classification it may be called – is entirely inadequate, if we are to seek any rational explanation, or even lucid statement, of the phenomena of post-mortem existence. The tripartite view of man’s nature gives a more reasonable representation of his [11] constitution, but is inadequate to explain many phenomena. The septenary division alone gives a reasonable theory consistent with the facts we have to deal with, and therefore, though it may seem elaborate, the student will do wisely to make himself familiar with it. If he were studying only the body, and desired to understand its activities, he would have to classify its tissues at far greater length and with far more minuteness than I am using here. He would have to learn the differences between muscular, nervous, glandular, bony, cartilaginous, epithelial, connective tissues, and all their varieties; and if he rebelled, in his ignorance, against such an elaborate division, it would be explained to him that only by such an analysis of the different components of the body can the varied and complicated phenomena of life-activity be understood. One kind of tissue is wanted for support, another for movement, another for secretion, another for absorption, and so on; and if each kind does not have its own distinctive name, dire confusion and misunderstanding must result, and physical functions remain unintelligible. In the long run time is gained, as well as clearness, by learning a few necessary technical terms, and as clearness is above all things needed in trying to explain and to understand very complicated [12] post-mortem phenomena, I find myself compelled – contrary to my habit in these elementary papers – to resort to these technical names at the outset, for the English language has as yet no equivalents for them, and the use of long descriptive phrases is extremely cumbersome and inconvenient.

For myself, I believe that very much of the antagonism between the adherents of the Esoteric Philosophy and those of Spiritualism has arisen from confusion of terms, and consequent misunderstanding of each other’s meaning. One eminent Spiritualist lately impatiently said that he did not see the need of exact definition, and that he meant by Spirit all the part of man’s nature that survived Death, and was not body. One might as well insist on saying that man’s body consists of bone and blood, and asked to define blood, answer: “Oh! I mean everything that is not bone”. A clear definition of terms, and a rigid adherence to them when once adopted, will at least enable us all to understand each other, and that is the first step to any fruitful comparison of experiences.




The human body is constantly undergoing a process of decay and of reconstruction. First builded into the [13] etheric form in the womb of the mother, it is built up continually by the insetting of fresh materials. With every moment tiny molecules are passing away from it; with every moment tiny molecules are streaming into it. The outgoing stream is scattered over the environment, and helps to rebuild bodies of all kinds in the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms, the physical basis of all these being one and the same.

The idea that the human tabernacle is built by countless lives, just in the same way as the rocky crust of our Earth was, has nothing repulsive in it for the true mystic. … Science teaches us that the living as well as the dead organism of both man and animal are swarming with bacteria of a hundred various kinds; that from without we are threatened with the invasion of microbes with every breath we draw, and from within by leucomaines, aerobes, anaerobes, and what not. But Science never yet went so far as to assert with the Occult Doctrine that our bodies, as well as those of animals, plants, and stones, are themselves altogether built up of such beings, which, except larger species, no microscope can detect. So far as regards the purely animal and material portion of man, Science is on its way to discoveries that will go far towards corroborating this theory. Chemistry and physiology are the two great magicians of the future, who are destined to open the eyes of mankind to the great physical truths. With every day, the identity between the animal and physical man, between the plant and man, and even between the reptile and its nest, the rock, and man, is more and more clearly shown. The physical and chemical constituents of all being found to be identical, chemical Science may well say that there is no difference between the matter which composes the ox and that which forms man. But the Occult Doctrine is far more explicit. It says: Not only the chemical compounds are the same, but the same infinitesimal invisible lives compose the atoms of the bodies of the mountain and the daisy, of man and the ant, of the elephant, and of the tree which shelters him from [14] the sun. Each particle – whether you call it organic or inorganic – is a life.* [* The Secret Doctrine, vol. i. p. 281. 3rd Edition.]


These “lives” which, separate and independent, are the minute vehicles of Automatic Vitality, aggregated together form the molecules and cells of the physical body, and they stream in and stream out, during all the years of bodily life, thus forming a continual bridge between man and his environment. Controlling these are the “Fiery Lives”, Energising Vitality, which constrain these to their work of building up the cells of the body, so that they work harmoniously and in order, subordinated to the higher manifestation of life in the complex organism called Man. These Fiery Lives on our plane correspond, in this controlling and organising function, with the One Life of the Universe,* [* See The Secret Doctrine, vol, i. p. 283. 3rd Edition.] and when they no longer exercise this function in the human body, the lower lives run rampant, and begin to break down the hitherto definitely organised body. During bodily life they are marshalled as an army; marching in regular order under the command of a general, performing various evolutions, keeping step, moving as a single body. At “Death” they become a disorganised and tumultuous mob, rushing hither and [15] thither, jostling each other, tumbling over each other, with no common object, no generally recognised authority. The body is never more alive than when it is dead; but it is alive in its units, and dead in its totality; alive as a congeries, dead as an organism.


Science regards man as an aggregation of atoms temporarily united by a mysterious force called the life-principle. To the Materialist, the only difference between a living and a dead body is that in the one case that force is active, in the other latent. When it is extinct or entirely latent, the molecules obey a superior attraction, which draws them asunder and scatters them through space. This dispersion must be Death, if it is possible to conceive such a thing as Death, where the very molecules of the dead body manifest an intense vital energy. … Says Eliphas Levi: “Change attests movement, and movement only reveals life. The corpse would not decompose if it were dead; all the molecules which compose it are living and struggle to separate.”* [* Isis Unveiled, vol. i. p. 480.]


Those who have read The Seven Principles of Man,* [* Theosophical Manuals, No. 1.] know that the etheric double is the vehicle of Prāna, the life-principle, or vitality. Through the etheric double Prāna exercises the controlling and co-ordinating force spoken of above, and “Death” takes triumphant possession of the body when the etheric double is finally withdrawn and the delicate cord which unites it with the body is snapped. The process of withdrawal has been watched by clairvoyants, and definitely described. Thus Andrew Jackson Davis, “the Poughkeepsie Seer”, [16] describes how he himself watched this escape of the ethereal body, and he states that the magnetic cord did not break for some thirty-six hours after apparent death. Others have described, in similar terms, how they saw a faint violet mist rise from the dying body, gradually condensing into a figure which was the counterpart of the expiring person, and attached to that person by a glistening thread. The snapping of the thread means the breaking of the last magnetic link between the dense body and the remaining principles of the human constitution; the body has dropped away from the man; he is excarnated, disembodied; six principles still remain as his constitution immediately after death, the seventh, or the dense body, being left as a cast-off garment.

Death consists, indeed, in a repeated process of unrobing, or unsheathing. The immortal part of man shakes off from itself, one after the other, its outer casings, and – as the snake from its skin, the butterfly from its chrysalis – emerges from one after another, passing into a higher state of consciousness. Now it is the fact that this escape from the body, and this dwelling of the conscious entity either in the vehicle called the body of desire, the kamic or astral body, or in a yet more ethereal Thought Body, can be effected during earth-life; so that man may become familiar with the [17] excarnated condition, and it may lose for him all the terrors that encircle the unknown. He can know himself as a conscious entity in either of these vehicles, and so prove to his own satisfaction that “life” does not depend on his functioning through the physical body. Why should a man who has thus repeatedly “shed” his lower bodies, and has found the process result, not in unconsciousness, but in a vastly extended freedom and vividness of life – why should he fear the final casting away of his fetters, and the freeing of his Immortal Self from what he realises as the prison of the flesh?

This view of human life is an essential part of the Esoteric Philosophy. Man is primarily divine, a spark of the Divine Life. This living flame, passing out from the Central Fire, weaves for itself coverings within which it dwells, and thus becomes the Triad, the Ātma-Buddhi­Manas, or Spirit, the reflection of the Immortal Self. This sends out its Ray, which becomes encased in grosser matter, in the desire body, or kāmic elements, the passional nature, and in the etheric double and the physical body. The once free immortal Intelligence thus entangled, enswathed, enchained, works heavily and laboriously through the coatings that enwrap it. In its own nature it remains ever the free Bird of Heaven, [18] but its wings are bound to its side by the matter into which it is plunged. When man recognises his own inherent nature, he learns to open his prison doors occasionally and escapes from his encircling gaol; first he learns to identify himself with the Immortal Triad, and rises above the body and its passions into a pure mental and moral life; then he learns that the conquered body cannot hold him prisoner, and he unlocks its door and steps out into the sunshine of his true life. So when Death unlocks the door for him, he knows the country into which he emerges, having trodden its ways at his own will. And at last he grows to recognise that fact of supreme importance, that “Life” has nothing to do with body and with this material plane; that Life is his conscious existence, unbroken, unbreakable, and that the brief interludes in that Life, during which he sojourns on Earth, are but a minute fraction of his conscious existence, and a fraction, moreover, during which he is less alive, because of the heavy coverings which weigh him down. For only during these interludes (save in exceptional cases) may he wholly lose his consciousness of continued life, being surrounded by these coverings which delude him and blind him to the truth of things, making that real which is illusion, and that stable which is transitory. [19] The sunlight ranges over the universe, and at incarnation we step out of it into the twilight of the body, and see but dimly during the period of our incarceration; at Death we step out of the prison again into the sunlight, and are nearer to the reality. Short are the twilight periods, and long the periods of the sunlight; but in our blinded state we call the twilight life, and to us it is the real existence, while we call the sunlight Death, and shiver at the thought of passing into it. Well did Giordano Bruno, one of the greatest teachers of our Philosophy in the Middle Ages, state the truth as to the body and Man.  Of the real Man he says:


He will be present in the body in such wise that the best part of himself will be absent from it, and will join himself by an indissoluble sacrament to divine things, in such a way that he will not feel either love or hatred of things mortal. Considering himself as master, and that he ought not to be servant and slave to his body, which he would regard only as the prison which holds his liberty in confinement, the glue which smears his wings, chains which bind fast his hands, stocks which fix his feet, veil which hides his view. Let him not be servant, captive, ensnared, chained, idle, stolid, and blind, for the body which he himself abandons cannot tyrannise over him, so that thus the spirit in a certain degree comes before him as the corporeal world, and matter is subject to the divinity and to nature.* [* The Heroic Enthusiasts, trans. by L. Williams, part ii. pp. 22, 23.]


When once we thus come to regard the body, and by conquering it we gain our liberty, Death loses for us [20] all his terrors, and at his touch the body slips from us as a garment, and we stand out from it erect and free.

On the same lines of thought Dr. Franz Hartmann writes:


According to certain views of the West, man is a developed ape.  According to the views of Indian Sages, which also coincide with those of the Philosophers of past ages and with the teachings of the Christian Mystics, man is a God, who is united during his earthly life, through his own carnal tendencies, to an animal (his animal nature). The God who dwells within him endows man with wisdom. The animal endows him with force. After death, the God effects his own release from the man by departing from the animal body. As man carries within him this divine consciousness, it is his task to battle with his animal inclinations, and to raise himself above them, by the help of the divine principle, a task which the animal cannot achieve, and which therefore is not demanded of it.* [* Cremation, Theosophical Siftings, vol, iii.]


The “man”, using the word in the sense of personality, as it is used in the latter half of this sentence, is only conditionally immortal; the true man, the evolving God, releases himself, and so much of the personality goes with him as has raised itself into union with the divine.

The body thus left to the rioting of the countless lives – previously held in constraint by Prāna, acting through its vehicle the etheric double – begins to decay, that is to break up, and with the disintegration of its cells and molecules, its particles pass away into other combinations. [21]

On our return to Earth we may meet again some of those same countless lives that in a previous incarnation made of our then body their passing dwelling; but all that we are just now concerned with is the breaking up of the body whose life-span is over, and its fate is complete disintegration. To the dense body, then, Death means dissolution as an organism, the loosing of the bonds that united the many into one.





The etheric double is the ethereal counterpart of the gross body of man. It is the double that is sometimes seen during life in the neighbourhood of the body, and its absence from the body is generally marked by the heaviness or semi-lethargy of the latter. Acting as the reservoir, or vehicle, of the life-principle during earth-life, its withdrawal from the body is naturally marked by the lowering of all vital functions, even while the cord which unites the two is still unbroken. As has been already said, the snapping of the cord means the death of the body.

When the etheric double finally quits the body, it does not travel to any distance from it. Normally it remains floating over the body, the state of consciousness [22] being dreamy and peaceful, unless tumultuous distress and violent emotion surround the corpse from which it has just issued. And here it may be well to say that during the slow process of dying, while the etheric double is withdrawing from the body, taking with it the higher principles, as after it has withdrawn, extreme quiet and self-control should be observed in the chamber of Death. For during this time the whole life passes swiftly in review before the Ego, the individual, as those have related who have passed in drowning into this unconscious and pulseless state.  A Master has written:


At the last moment the whole life is reflected in our memory, and emerges from all the forgotten nooks and corners, picture after, picture, one, event after another. … The man may often appear dead, yet from the last pulsation, from and between the last throbbing of his heart and the moment when the last spark of animal heat leaves the body, the brain thinks, and the Ego lives over in those few brief seconds his whole life. Speak in whispers, ye who assist at a deathbed, and find yourselves in the solemn presence of death. Especially have ye to keep quiet just after death has laid her clammy hand upon the body. Speak in whispers, I say, lest ye disturb the quiet ripple of [23] thought, and hinder the busy work of the past, casting its reflection upon the veil of the future.* [* Man: Fragments of Forgotten History, by Two Chelâs (Mohini Chatterji & Laura C. Holloway), pp. 119, 120.]


This is the time during which the thought-images of the ended earth-life, clustering around their maker, group and interweave themselves into the completed image of that life, and are impressed in their totality on the Astral Light. The dominant tendencies, the strongest thought-habits, assert their pre-eminence, and stamp themselves as the characteristics which will appear as “innate qualities” in the succeeding incarnation. This balancing-up of the life-issues, this reading of the karmic records, is too solemn and momentous a thing to be disturbed by the ill-timed wailings of personal relatives and friends.


At the solemn moment of death every man, even when death is sudden, sees the whole of his past life marshalled before him, in its minutest details. For one short instant the personal become one with the individual and all-knowing Ego. But this instant is enough to show to him the whole chain of causes which have been at work during his life. He sees and now understands himself as he is, unadorned by flattery or self-deception. He reads his life, remaining as a spectator, looking down into the arena he is quitting.* [* Key to Theosophy, H. P. Blavatsky, p. 109. Third Edition.]


This vivid sight is succeeded, in the ordinary person, by the dreamy, peaceful semi-consciousness spoken of above, as the etheric double floats above the body to which it has belonged, now completely separated from it. [24]

Sometimes this double is seen by persons in the house, or in the neighbourhood, when the thought of the dying has been strongly turned to someone left behind, when some anxiety has been in the mind at the last, something left undone which needed doing, or when some local disturbance has shaken the tranquillity of the passing entity. Under these conditions, or others of a similar nature, the double may be seen or heard; when seen, it shows the dreamy, hazy consciousness alluded to, is silent, vague in its aspect, unresponsive.

As the days go on, the five higher principles gradually disengage themselves from the etheric double, and shake this off as they previously shook off the grosser body. They pass on, as a fivefold entity, into a state to be next studied, leaving the etheric double, with the dense body of which it is the counterpart, thus becoming an ethereal corpse, as much as the body had become a dense corpse. This ethereal corpse remains near the dense one, and they disintegrate together; clairvoyants see these ethereal wraiths in churchyards, sometimes showing likeness to the dead dense body, sometimes as violet mists or lights. Such an ethereal corpse has been seen by a friend of my own, passing through the horribly repulsive stages of decomposition, a ghastly [25] vision in face of which clairvoyance was certainly no blessing. The process goes on pari passu, until all but the actual bony skeleton of the dense body is completely disintegrated, and the particles have gone to form other combinations.

One of the great advantages of cremation – apart from all sanitary conditions – lies in the swift restoration to Mother Nature of the physical elements composing the dense and ethereal corpses, brought about by the burning. Instead of slow and gradual decomposition, swift dissociation takes place, and no physical remnants are left, working possible mischief.

The ethereal corpse may to some extent be revivified for a short period after its death.  Dr. Hartmann says:


The fresh corpse of a person who has suddenly been killed may be galvanised into a semblance of life by the application of a galvanic battery. Likewise the astral corpse of a person may be brought back into an artificial life by being infused with a part of the life principle of the medium. If that corpse is one of a very intellectual person, it may talk very intellectually; and if it was that of a fool, it will talk like a fool.* [* Magic, White and Black, Dr. Franz Hartmann, pp. 109, 110. Third Edition.]


This mischievous procedure can only be carried out in the neighbourhood of the corpse, and for a very limited time after death, but there are cases on record of such galvanising of the ethereal corpse, performed [26] at the grave of the departed person. Needless to say that such a process belongs distinctly to “Black” Magic, and is wholly evil. Ethereal corpses, like dense ones, if not swiftly destroyed by burning, should be left in the silence and the darkness, a silence and a darkness that it is the worst profanity to break.





Loka is a Samskrit word that may be translated as place, world, land, so that Kāmaloka is literally the place or the world of Desire, Kāma being the name of that part of the human organism that includes all the passions, desires, and emotions which man has in common with the lower animals.* [* See The Seven Principles of Man, pp. 17-21.In this division of the universe, the Kāmaloka, dwell all the human entities that have shaken off the dense body and its ethereal double, but have not yet disentangled themselves from the passional and emotional nature. Kāma­loka has many other tenants, but we are concerned only with the human beings who have lately passed through the gateway of Death, and it is on these that we must concentrate our study. [27]

A momentary digression may be pardoned on the question of the existence of regions in the universe, other than the physical, peopled with intelligent beings. The existence of such regions is postulated by the Esoteric Philosophy, and is known to the Adepts and to very many less highly evolved men and women by personal experience; all that is needed for the study of these regions is the evolution of the faculties latent in every man; a “living” man, in ordinary parlance, can leave his dense and ethereal bodies behind him, and explore these regions without going through Death’s gateway. Thus we read in the Theosophist that real knowledge may be acquired by the Spirit in the living man coming into conscious relations with the world of Spirit.


As in the case, say, of an initiated Adept, who brings back upon earth with him the clear and distinct recollection – correct to a detail – of facts gathered, and the information obtained, in the invisible sphere of Realities.* [* Theosophist, March 1882, p. 158, note.]


In this way those regions become to him matters of knowledge as definite, as certain, as familiar, as if he should travel to Africa in ordinary fashion, explore its deserts, and return to his own land the richer for the knowledge and experience gained. A seasoned African explorer would care but little for the criticisms passed [28] on his report by persons who had never been thither; he might tell what he saw, describe the animals whose habits he had studied, sketch the country he had traversed, sum up its products and its characteristics. If he was contradicted, laughed at, set right, by untravelled critics, he would be neither ruffled nor distressed, but would merely leave them alone. Ignorance cannot convince knowledge by repeated asseveration of its nescience. The opinion of a hundred persons on a subject on which they are wholly ignorant is of no more weight than the opinion of one such person. Evidence is strengthened by many consenting witnesses, testifying each to his knowledge of a fact, but nothing multiplied a thousand times remains nothing. Strange, indeed, would it be if all the Space around us be empty, mere waste void, and the inhabitants of earth the only forms in which intelligence could clothe itself. As Dr. Huxley said:


Without stepping beyond the analogy of that which is known, it is easy to people the cosmos with entities, in ascending scale, until we reach something practically indistinguishable from omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience.* [* Essays upon some Controverted Questions, p. 36.]


If these entities did not have organs of sense like our own, if their senses responded to vibrations different from those which affect ours, they and we might walk [29] side by side, pass each other, meet each other, pass through each other, and yet be never the wiser as to each other’s existence.  Mr. Crookes gives us a glimpse of the possibility of such unconscious coexistence of intelligent beings, and but a very slight effort of imagination is needed to realise the conception.


It is not improbable that other sentient beings have organs of sense which do not respond to some or any of the rays to which our eyes are sensitive, but are able to appreciate other vibrations to which we are blind. Such beings would practically be living in a different world to our own. Imagine, for instance, what idea we should form of surrounding objects were we endowed with eyes not sensitive to the ordinary rays of light, but sensitive to the vibrations concerned in electric and magnetic phenomena. Glass and crystal would be among the most opaque of bodies. Metals would be more or less transparent, and a telegraph wire through the air would look like a long narrow hole drilled through an impervious solid body. A dynamo in active work would resemble a conflagration, whilst a permanent magnet would realise the dream of medieval mystics, and become an everlasting lamp with no expenditure of energy or consumption of fuel.* [* Fortnightly Review, 1892, p. 176.]


Kāmaloka is a region peopled by intelligent and semi-intelligent entities, just as our own is thus peopled it is crowded, like our world, with many types and forms of living things, as diverse from each other as a blade of grass is different from a tiger, a tiger from a man. It interpenetrates our own world and is interpenetrated by it, but, as the states of matter in the two worlds differ, they co-exist without the knowledge of the [30] intelligent beings in either. Only under abnormal circumstances can consciousness of each other’s presence arise among the inhabitants of the two worlds; by certain peculiar training a living human being can come into conscious contact with and control many of the sub-human denizens of Kāmaloka; human beings, who have quitted earth and in whom the kāmic elements were strong, may very readily be attracted by the kāmic elements in embodied men, and by their help become conscious again of the presence of the scenes they had left; and human beings still embodied may set up methods of communication with the disembodied, and may, as said, leave their own bodies for awhile, and become conscious in Kāmaloka by the use of faculties through which they have accustomed their consciousness to act. The point which is here to be clearly grasped is the existence of Kāmaloka as a definite region, inhabited by a large diversity of entities, among whom are disembodied human beings.

From this necessary digression we return to the particular human being whose fate, as a type, we may be said to be tracing, and of whose dense body and etheric double we have already disposed. Let us contemplate him in the state of very brief duration that follows the shaking off of these two casings. [31]  Says H. P. Blavatsky, after quoting from Plutarch a description of the man after death:


Here you have our doctrine, which shows man a septenary during life; a quintile just after death, in Kāmaloka.* [* Key to Theosophy, p. 67.]


Prāna, the portion of the life-energy appropriated by the man in his embodied state, having lost its vehicle, the ethereal double, which, with the physical body, has slipped away from its controlling energy, must pass back into the great life-reservoir of the universe. As water enclosed in a glass vessel and plunged into a tank mingles with the surrounding water if the vessel be broken, so Prāna, as the bodies drop from it, mingles again with the Life Universal. It is only “just after death” that man is a quintile, or fivefold in his constitution, for Prāna, as a distinctively human principle, cannot remain appropriated when its vehicle disintegrates.

The man now is clothed, but with the Kāma Rūpa, or body of Kāma, the desire body, a body of astral matter, often termed “fluidic”, so easily does it, during earth-life, take any form impressed upon it from without or moulded from within. The living man is there, the immortal Triad, still clad in the last of its terrestrial garments, in the subtle, sensitive, responsive forms [32] which lent it during embodiment the power to feel, to desire, to enjoy, to suffer, to think, in the physical world.


When the man dies, his three lower principles leave him forever; i.e., body, life, and the vehicle of the latter, the etheric body, or the double of the living man. And then his four principles – the central or middle principle (the animal soul or Kāma Rūpa, with what it has assimilated from the lower Manas) and the higher Triad – find themselves in Kāmaloka.* [* Key to Theosophy, p. 97.]


This desire body undergoes a marked change soon after death. The different densities of the astral matter of which it is composed arrange themselves in a series of shells or envelopes, the densest being outside, shutting the consciousness away from all but very limited contact and expression. The consciousness turns in on itself, if left undisturbed, and prepares itself for the next step onwards, while the desire body gradually disintegrates, shell after shell.

Up to the point of this re-arrangement of the matter of the desire body, the post-mortem experience of all is much the same; it is a “dreamy, peaceful semi-consciousness”, as before said, and this, in the happiest cases, passes without vivid awakening into the deeper “pre-devachanic unconsciousness” which ends with the blissful wakening in Devachan, heaven, for the period of [33] repose that intervenes between two incarnations. But as, at this point, different possibilities arise, let us trace a normal uninterrupted progression in Kāmaloka, up to the threshold of Devachan, and then we can return to consider other classes of circumstances.

If a person has led a pure life, and has steadfastly striven to rise and to identify himself with the higher rather than the lower part of his nature, after shaking off the dense body and the etheric double, and after Prāna has re-mingled with the ocean of Life, and he is clothed only with the Kāma Rūpa, the passional elements in him, being but weak and accustomed to comparatively little activity, will not be able to assert themselves strongly in Kāmaloka. Now during earth-life Kāma and the Lower Manas are strongly united and interwoven with each other; in the case we are considering Kāma is weak, and the Lower Manas has purified Kāma to a great extent. The mind, woven with the passions, emotions, and desires, has purified them, and has assimilated their pure part, absorbed it into itself, so that all that is left of Kāma is a mere residue, easily to be gotten rid of, from which the Immortal Triad can readily free itself. Slowly this Immortal Triad, the true Man, draws in all his forces; he draws into himself the memories of the earth-life just ended, [34] its loves, its hopes, its aspirations, and prepares to pass out of Kāmaloka into the blissful rest of Devachan, the “abode of the Gods”, or, as some say, “the land of bliss”.  Kāmaloka


is an astral locality, the Limbus of scholastic theology, the Hades of the ancients, and, strictly speaking, a locality only in a relative sense. It has neither a definite area, nor boundary, but exists within subjective space, i.e., is beyond our sensuous perceptions. Still it exists, and it is there that the astral eidolons of all the beings that have lived, animals included, await their second death. For the animals it comes with the disintegration and the entire fading out of their astral particles to the last. For the human eidolon it begins when the Ātma-Buddhi-Mānasic Triad is said to “separate” itself from its lower principles or the reflection of the ex-personality, by falling into the devachanic state.* [* Key to Theosophy, p. 97.]


This second death is the passage, then, of the Immortal Triad from the kāmalokic sphere, so closely related to the earth sphere, into the higher state of Devachan, of which we must speak later. The type of man we are considering passes through this, in the peaceful dreamy state already described, and, if left undisturbed, will not regain full consciousness until these stages are passed through, and peace gives way to bliss.

But during the whole period that the five principles – the Immortal Triad, Mind and Desire – remain in Kāmaloka, whether the period be long or short, days or centuries, they are within the reach of the [35] earth-influences. In the case of such a person as we have been describing, an awakening may be caused by the passionate sorrow and desires of friends left on earth, and these violently vibrating kamic elements in the embodied persons may set up vibrations in the desire body of the disembodied, and so reach and rouse the lower Mind, not yet withdrawn to and reunited with its parent, the Spiritual Intellect. Thus it may be roused from its dreamy state to vivid remembrance of the earth-life so lately left, and may – if any sensitive or medium is concerned, either directly, or indirectly through one of these grieving friends in communication with the medium – use the medium’s etheric and dense bodies to speak or write to those left behind. This awakening is often accompanied with acute suffering, and even if this be avoided, the natural process of the Triad freeing itself is rudely disturbed, and the completion of its freedom is delayed. In speaking of this possibility of communication during the period immediately succeeding death and before the freed Man passes on into Devachan, H. P. Blavatsky says:


Whether any living mortal, save a few exceptional cases – when the intensity of the desire in the dying person to return for some purpose forced the higher consciousness to remain awake, and, therefore, it was really the individuality, the “Spirit”, that communicated – has derived much benefit from the return of the Spirit into the objective plane is another question. The Spirit is [36] dazed after death, and falls very soon into what we call “pre-devachanic unconsciousness”.* [* Key to Theosophy, p. 102.]


Intense desire may move the disembodied entity to spontaneously return to the sorrowing ones left behind, but this spontaneous return is rare in the case of persons of the type we are just now considering. If they are left at peace, they will generally sleep themselves quietly into Devachan, and so avoid any struggle or suffering in connection with the second death. On the final escape of the Immortal Triad there is left behind in Kāmaloka only the desire body, the “shell” or mere empty phantom, which gradually disintegrates; but it will be better to deal with this in considering the next type, the average man or woman, without marked spirituality of an elevated kind, but also without marked evil tendencies.

When an average man or woman reaches Kāmaloka, the spiritual Intelligence is clothed with a desire body, which possesses considerable vigour and vitality; the lower Manas, closely interwoven with Kāma during the earth-life just ended, having lived much in the enjoyment of objects of sense and in the pleasure of the emotions, cannot quickly disentangle itself from the web of its weaving, and return to its Parent Mind, the source [37] of its own being. Hence a considerable delay in the world of transition, in Kāmaloka, while the desires wear out and fade away to a point at which they can no longer detain the Soul with their clinging arms.

As said, during the period that the Immortal Triad, Mind and Desire remain together in Kāmaloka, communication between the disembodied entity and the embodied entities on earth is possible. Such communication will generally be welcomed by these, disembodied ones, because their desires and emotions still cling to the earth they have left, and the mind has not sufficiently lived on its own plane to find therein full satisfaction and contentment. The lower Manas still yearns towards kāmic gratifications and the vivid highly coloured sensations of earth-life, and can by these yearnings be drawn back to the scenes it has regretfully quitted. Speaking of the possibility of communication between the Ego of the deceased person and a medium, H. P. Blavatsky says in the Theosophist,* [* June 1882, art, “Seeming Discrepancies”.] as from the teachings received by her from the Adept Brothers, that such communication may occur during two intervals:


Interval the first is that period between the physical death and the merging of the spiritual Ego into that state which is known in the Arhat esoteric doctrine as Bardo. We have translated this as the “gestation” period [pre-devachanic]. [38]


Some of the communications made through mediums are from this source, from the disembodied entity, thus drawn back to the earth-sphere – a cruel kindness, delaying its forward evolution and introducing an element of disharmony into what should be an orderly progression. The period in Kāmaloka is thus lengthened, the desire body is fed and its hold on the Ego is maintained, and thus is the freedom of the Soul deferred, the immortal Swallow being still held down by the bird-lime of earth.

Persons who have led an evil life, who have gratified and stimulated their animal passions, and have full fed the desire body while they have starved even the lower mind – these remain for long, denizens of Kāmaloka, and are filled with yearnings for the earth-life they have left, and for the animal delights that they can no longer – in the absence of the physical body – directly taste. These gather round the medium and the sensitive, endeavouring to utilise them for their own gratification, and these are among the more dangerous of the forces so rashly confronted in their ignorance by the thoughtless and the curious.

Another class of disembodied entities includes those whose lives on earth have been prematurely cut short, by their own act, the act of others, or by accident. [39] Their fate in Kāmaloka depends on the conditions which surrounded their out-goings from earthly life, for not all suicides are guilty of felo de se, and the measure of responsibility may vary within very wide limits.  The condition of such has been thus described:


Suicides, although not wholly dissevered from their sixth and seventh principles, and quite potent in the seance room, nevertheless, to the day when they would have died a natural death, are separated from their higher principles by a gulf. The sixth and seventh principles remain passive and negative, whereas in cases of accidental death the higher and the lower groups actually attract each other. In cases of good and innocent Egos, moreover, the latter gravitates irresistibly toward the sixth and seventh, and thus either slumbers surrounded by happy dreams, or sleeps a dreamless profound sleep until the hour strikes. With a little reflection and an eye to the eternal justice and fitness of things, you will see why. The victim, whether good or bad, is irresponsible for his death. Even if his death were due to some action in a previous life or an antecedent birth, was an act, in short, of the Law of Retribution, still it was not the direct result of an act deliberately committed by the personal Ego of that life during which he happened to be killed. Had he been allowed to live longer he might have atoned for his antecedent [40] sins still more effectually, and even now, the Ego having been made to pay off the debt of his maker, the personal Ego is free from the blows of retributive justice. The Dhyan Chohans, who have no hand in the guidance of the living human Ego, protect the helpless victim when it is violently thrust out of its element into a new one, before it is matured and made fit and ready for it.


These, whether suicides or killed by accident, can communicate with those in earth-life, but much to their own injury. As said above, the good and innocent sleep happily till the life-period is over. But where the victim of an accident is depraved and gross, his fate is a sad one.


Unhappy shades, if sinful and sensual, they wander about (not shells, for their connection with their two higher principles is not quite broken) until their death­hour comes. Cut off in the full flush of earthly passions which bind them to familiar scenes, they are enticed by the opportunities which mediums afford to gratify them vicariously. They are the Pishachas, the Incubi and Succubae of mediaeval times; the demons of thirst, gluttony, lust, and avarice – Elementaries of intensified craft, wickedness, and cruelty; provoking their victims to horrid crimes, and revelling in their commission They not only ruin their victims, but these psychic vampires, borne along by the torrent of their hellish impulses, at last – at the [41] fixed close to their natural period of life – they are carried out of the earth’s aura into regions where for ages they endure exquisite suffering and end with entire destruction.


*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *


Now the causes producing the “new being” and determining the nature of Karma are Trishnā (Tanha) – thirst, desire for sentient existence – and Upādāna, which is the realisation or consummation of Trishna, or that desire. And both of these the medium helps to develop ne plus ultra in an Elementary, be he a suicide or a victim. The rule is that a person who dies a natural death will remain from “a few hours to several short years” within the earth’s attraction – i. e., the Kāmaloka. But exceptions are the cases of suicides and those who die a violent death in general. Hence, one of such Egos who was destined to lave, say, eighty or ninety years – but who either killed himself or was killed by some accident, let us suppose at the age of twenty – would have to pass in the Kāmaloka not “a few years”, but in this case sixty or seventy years, as an Elementary, or rather an “earth-walker”, since he is not, unfortunately for him, even a “Shell”. Happy, thrice happy, in comparison, are those disembodied entities who sleep their long slumber and live in dream in the bosom of Space! And woe to those whose Trishnā will attract them to mediums, and woe to the latter who tempt them with such an easy Upādāna. For, in grasping them [42] and satisfying their thirst for life, the medium helps to develop in them – is, in fact, the cause of – a new set of Skandhas, a new body with far worse tendencies and passions than the one they lost. All the future of this new body will be determined thus, not only by the Karma of demerit of the previous set or group, but also by that of the new set of the future being. Were the mediums and spiritualists but to know, as I said, that with every new “angel guide” they welcome with rapture, they entice the latter into a Upādāna, which will be productive of untold evils for the new Ego that will be reborn under its nefarious shadow, and that with every seance, especially for materialisation, they multiply the causes for misery, causes that will make the unfortunate Ego fail in his spiritual birth, or be reborn into a far worse existence than ever – they would, perhaps, be less lavish in their hospitality.


Premature death brought on by vicious courses, by over-study, or by voluntary sacrifice for some great cause, will bring about delay in Kāmaloka, but the state of the disembodied entity will depend on the motive that cut short the life.


There are very few, if any, of the men who indulge in these vices, who feel perfectly sure that such a course of action will lead them eventually to premature death. Such is the penalty of Māyā. The “vices” will not escape their punishment; but it is the cause, not the effect, that will be punished, [43] especially an unforeseen, though probable effect. As well call a man a “suicide” who meets his death in a storm at sea, as one who kills himself with “over-study”. Water is liable to drown a man, and too much brain work to produce a softening of the brain matter, which may carry him away. In such a case no one ought to cross the Kālapāni, nor even to take a bath for fear of getting faint in it and drowned (for we all know of such cases), nor should a man do his duty, least of all sacrifice himself for even a laudable and highly beneficial cause as many of us do. Motive is everything, and man is punished in a case of direct responsibility, never otherwise. In the victim’s case the natural hour of death was anticipated accidentally, while in that of the suicide death is brought on voluntarily and with a full and deliberate knowledge of its immediate consequences. Thus a man who causes his death in a fit of temporary insanity is not a felo de se, to the great grief and often trouble of the Life Insurance Companies. Nor is he left a prey to the temptations of the Kāmaloka, but falls asleep like any other victim.


The population of Kāmaloka is thus recruited with a peculiarly dangerous element by all the acts of violence, legal and illegal, which wrench the physical body from the soul and send the latter into Kāmaloka clad in the desire body, throbbing with pulses of hatred, [44] passion, emotion, palpitating with longings for revenge, with un-satiated lusts. A murderer in the body is not a pleasant member of society, but a murderer suddenly expelled from the body is a far more dangerous entity; society may protect itself against the first, but in its present state of ignorance it is defenceless as against the second.

Finally, the Immortal Triad sets itself free from the desire body, and passes out of Kāmaloka; the higher Manas draws back its Ray, coloured with the life-scenes it has passed through, and carrying with it the experiences gained through the personality it has informed. The labourer is called in from the field, and he returns home bearing his sheaves with him, rich or poor, according to the fruitage of the life.  When the Triad with the Ray has quitted Kāmaloka, it passes wholly out of the sphere of earth attractions:


As soon as it has stepped outside the Kāmaloka – crossed the “GoldenBridge” leading to the “SevenGoldenMountains” – the Ego can confabulate no more with easy-going mediums.


There are some exceptional possibilities of reaching such an Ego, that will be explained later, but the Ego is out of the reach of the ordinary medium and cannot be recalled into the earth-sphere. But ere we follow [45] the further course of the Triad, we must consider the fate of the now deserted desire body, left as a mere reliquum in Kāmaloka.





The Shell is the desire body, emptied of the Triad and the Ray, which have now passed onwards; it is the third of the transitory garments of Soul, cast aside and left in Kāmaloka to disintegrate.

When the past earth-life has been noble, or even when it has been of average purity and utility, this Shell retains but little vitality after the passing onwards of the Triad, and rapidly dissolves. Its molecules, however, retain, during this process of disintegration, the impressions made upon them during the earth-life, the tendency to vibrate in response to stimuli constantly experienced during that period. Every student of physiology is familiar with what is termed automatic action, with the tendency of cells to repeat vibrations originally set up by purposive action; thus are formed what we term habits, and we unconsciously repeat motions which at first were done with thought. So strong is this automatism of the body, that, as everyone knows by experience, it is difficult to break off the use of a phrase or of a gesture that has become “habitual”. [46]

Now the desire body is during earth-life the recipient of and the respondent to all stimuli from without, and it also continually receives and responds to stimuli from the lower Manas. In it are set up habits, tendencies to repeat automatically familiar vibrations, vibrations of love and desire, vibrations imaging past experiences of all kinds. Just as the hand may repeat a familiar gesture, so may the desire body repeat a familiar feeling or thought. And when the Triad has left it, this automatism remains, and the Shell may thus simulate feelings and thoughts which are empty of all true intelligence and will. Many of the responses to eager enquiries at séances come from such Shells, drawn to the neighbourhood of friends and relatives by the magnetic attractions so long familiar and dear, and automatically responding to the waves of emotion and remembrance, to the impulse of which they had so often answered during the lately closed earth-life. Phrases of affection, moral platitudes, memories of past events, will be all the communications such Shells can make, but these may be literally poured out under favourable conditions under the magnetic stimuli freely applied by the embodied friends and relatives.

In cases where the lower Manas during earth-life has been strongly attached to material objects and to [47] intellectual pursuits directed by a self-seeking motive, the desire body nay have acquired a very considerable automatism of an intellectual character, and may give forth responses of considerable intellectual merit. But still the mark of non-originality will be present: the apparent intellectuality will only give out reproductions, and there will be no sign of the new and independent thought which would be the inevitable outcome of a strong intelligence working with originality amid new surroundings. Intellectual sterility brands the great majority of communications from the “spirit world”; reflections of earthly scenes, earthly conditions, earthly arrangements, are plentiful, but we usually seek in vain for strong, new thought, worthy of Intelligences freed from the prison of the flesh. The communications of a loftier kind occasionally granted are, for the most part, from non-human Intelligences, attracted by the pure atmosphere of the medium or sitters.

And there is an ever-present danger in this commerce with the Shells. Just because they are Shells, and nothing more, they answer to the impulses that strike on them from without, and easily become malicious and mischievous, automatically responding to evil vibrations. Thus a medium, or sitters of poor moral character, will impress the Shells that flock around them [48] with impulses of a low order, and any animal desires, petty and foolish thoughts, will set up similar vibrations in the blindly responsive Shells.

Again, the Shell is very easily taken possession of by Elementals, the semi-conscious forces working in the kingdoms of Nature, and may be used by them as a convenient vehicle for many a prank and trick. The etheric double of the medium, and the desire bodies emptied of their immortal Tenants, give the material basis by which Elementals can work many a curious and startling result; and frequenters of seances may be confidently appealed to, and asked whether many of the childish freaks with which they are familiar – pullings of hair, pinchings, slaps, throwing about of objects, piling up of furniture, playing on accordions, etc. – are not more rationally accounted for as the tricky vagaries of sub­human forces, than as the actions of “spirits” who, while in the body, were certainly incapable of such vulgarities.

Let us leave the Shells alone to peacefully dissolve into their elements, and mingle once again in the crucible of Nature. The authors of The Perfect Way put very well the real character of the Shell:


The true “ghost” consists of the exterior and earthly portion of the Soul, that portion which, being weighted with cares, [49] attachments, and memories merely mundane, is detached by the Soul and remains in the astral sphere, an existence more or less definite and personal, and capable of holding, through a sensitive, converse with the living. It is, however, but as a cast-off vestment of the Soul, and is incapable of endurance as ghost. The true Soul and real person, the anima divina, parts at death with all those lower affections which would have retained it near its earthly haunts.* [* Anna Bonus Kingsford and Edward Maitland, Pp. 73, 74. Ed. 1887.]


If we would find our beloved, it is not among the decaying remnants in Kāmaloka that we should seek them.  “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”





The word “Elementary” has been so loosely used that it has given rise to a good deal of confusion.  It is thus defined by H. P. Blavatsky:


Properly, the disembodied souls of the depraved; these souls having, at some time prior to death, separated from themselves their divine spirits, and so lost their chance for immortality. But at the present stage of learning it has been thought best to apply the term to the spooks or phantoms of disembodied persons, in general to those whose temporary habitation is the Kāmaloka. … Once divorced from their higher Triads and their bodies, these souls remain in their Kāma Rūpic envelopes, and are irresistibly drawn to the earth amid elements congenial to their gross natures. Their stay in the Kāmaloka varies as to its duration; but ends invariably in disintegration, dissolving like a column of mist, atom by atom, in the surrounding elements.* [* Theosophical Glossary, Elementaries. 1892. Posthumous publication edited by G. R. S. Mead.]  [50]


Students of this series of Manuals know that it is possible for the lower Manas to so entangle itself with Kāma as to wrench itself away from its source, and this is spoken of in Occultism as “the loss of the Soul”.* [*  See The Seven Principles of Man, pp. 44-46.] It is, in other words, the loss of the personal self, which has separated itself from its Parent, the Higher Ego, and has thus doomed itself to perish. Such a Soul, having thus separated itself from the Immortal Triad during its earth-life, becomes a true Elementary, after it has quitted the dense and etheric bodies. Then, clad in its desire body, it lives for awhile, for a longer or shorter time according to the vigour of its vitality, a wholly evil thing, dangerous and malignant, seeking to renew its fading vitality by any means laid open to it by the folly or ignorance of still embodied souls. Its ultimate fate is, indeed, destruction, but it may work much evil on its way to its self-chosen doom.

The word Elementary is, however, very often used to describe the lower Manas in its garment the desire body, not broken away from the higher Principles, but not yet absorbed into its Parent, the higher Manas. Such Elementaries may be in any stage of progress, harmless or mischievous. [51]

Some writers, again, use Elementary as a synonym for Shell, and so cause increased confusion. The word should at least be restricted to the desire body plus lower Manas, whether the lower Manas be disentangling itself from the kamic elements, in order that it may be re-absorbed into its source, or separated from the Higher Ego, and therefore on the road to destruction.





Among the various conceptions presented by the Esoteric Philosophy, there are few, perhaps, which the Western mind has found more difficulty in grasping than that of Devachan, or Devasthān, the Devaland, or land of the Gods.* [* The name Sukhāvatī, borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism, is sometimes used instead of that of Devachan. Sukhavati, according to Schlagintweit, is “the abode of the blessed, into which ascend those who have accumulated much merit by the practice of virtues” and “involves the deliverance from metempsychosis” (Buddhism in Tibet, p. 99). According to the Prasanga school, the higher Path leads to Nirvāna, the lower to Sukhāvatī. But Eitel calls Sukhāvatī the “Nirvana of the common people, where the saints revel in physical bliss for aeons, until they reenter the circle of transmigration” (‘Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary’). Eitel, however, under “Amitābha” states that the “popular mind” regards the “paradise of the West” as “the haven of final redemption from the eddies of transmigration”. When used by one of the Teachers of the Esoteric Philosophy it covers the higher Devachanic states, but from all of these the Soul comes back to earth.And one of the chief difficulties [52] has arisen from the free use of the words illusion, dream-state, and other similar terms, as denoting the devachanic consciousness – a general sense of unreality having thus come to pervade the whole conception of Devachan. When the Eastern thinker speaks of the present earthly life as Maya, illusion, dream, the solid Western at once puts down the phrases as allegorical and fanciful, for what can be less illusory, he thinks, than this world of buying and selling, of beefsteaks and bottled stout. But when similar terms are applied to a state beyond Death – a state which to him is misty and unreal in his own religion, and which, as he sadly feels, is lacking in all the substantial comforts dear to the family man – then he accepts the words in their most literal and prosaic meaning, and speaks of Devachan as a delusion in his own sense of the word. It may be well, therefore, on the threshold of Devachan to put this question of “illusion” in its true light.

In a deep metaphysical sense all that is conditioned is illusory. All phenomena are literally “appearances”, the outer masks in which the One Reality shows itself forth in our changing universe. The more “material” and solid the appearance, the further it is from Reality, and therefore the more illusory it is. What can be a greater fraud than our body, so apparently solid, stable, [53] visible and tangible? It is a constantly changing congeries of minute living particles, an attractive centre into which stream continually myriads of tiny invisibles, that becomes visible by their aggregation at this centre, and then stream away again, becoming invisible by reason of their minuteness as they separate off from this aggregation. In comparison with this ever-shifting but apparently stable body how much less illusory is the mind, which is able to expose the pretensions of the body and put it in its true light. The mind is constantly imposed on by the senses, and Consciousness, the most real thing in us, is apt to regard itself as the unreal. In truth, it is the thought-world that is the nearest to reality, and things become more and more illusory as they take on more and more of a phenomenal character.

Again, the mind is permanent as compared with the transitory physical world. For the “mind” is only a clumsy name for the living Thinker in us, the true and conscious Entity, the inner Man, “that was, that is, and will be, for whom the our shall never strike”. The less deeply this inner Man is plunged into matter, the less unreal is his life; and when he has shaken off the garments he donned at incarnation, his physical, ethereal, and passional bodies, then he is nearer to the Soul of Things than he was before, and though veils of [54] illusion still dim his vision they are far thinner than those which clouded it when round him was wrapped the garment of the flesh. His freer and less illusory life is that which is without the body, and the disembodied is, comparatively speaking, his normal state. Out of this normal state he plunges into physical life for brief periods in order that he may gain experiences otherwise unattainable, and bring them back to enrich his more abiding condition. As a diver may plunge into the depths of the ocean to seek a pearl, so the Thinker plunges into the depths of the ocean of life to seek the pearl of experience; but he does not stay there long; it is not his own element; he rises up again into his own atmosphere and shakes off from him the heavier element he leaves. And therefore it is truly said of the Soul that has escaped from earth that it has returned to its own place, for its home is the “land of the Gods”, and here on earth it is an exile and a prisoner. This view was very clearly put by a Master of Wisdom in a conversation reported by H. P. Blavatsky, and printed under the title “Life and Death”.* [* See Lucifer, Oct. 1892, vol. xi. No. 62.The following extracts state the case:


The Vedantins, acknowledging two kinds of conscious existence, the terrestrial and the spiritual, point only to the [55] latter as an undoubted actuality. As to the terrestrial life, owing to its changeability and shortness, it is nothing but an illusion of our senses. Our life in the spiritual spheres must be thought an actuality because it is there that lives our endless, never-changing immortal I, the Sūtrātmā. Whereas in every new incarnation it clothes itself in a perfectly different personality, a temporary and short-lived one …. The very essence of all this, that is to say, spirit, force, and matter, has neither end nor beginning, but the shape acquired by this triple unity during its incarnations, their exterior, so to speak, is nothing but a mere illusion of personal conceptions. This is why we call the posthumous life the only reality, and the terrestrial one, including the personality itself, only imaginary.


Why in this case should we call the reality sleep, and the phantasm waking?


This comparison was made by me to facilitate your comprehension. From the standpoint of your terrestrial notions it is perfectly accurate.


Note the words: “From the standpoint of your terrestrial notions”, for they are the key to all the phrases used about Devachan as an “illusion”. Our gross physical matter is not there; the limitations imposed by it are not there; the mind is in its own realm, where to will is to create, where to think is to see. And so, when the Master was asked: “Would it not [56] be better to say that death is nothing but a birth for a new life, or still better, a going back to eternity?” he answered:


This is how it really is, and I have nothing to say against such a way of putting it. Only with our accepted views of material life the words “live” and “exist” are not applicable to the purely subjective condition after death; and were they employed in our Philosophy without a rigid definition of their meanings, the Vedantins would soon arrive at the ideas which are common in our times among the American Spiritualists, who preach about spirits marrying among themselves and with mortals. As amongst the true, not nominal, Christians so amongst the Vedantins – the life on the other side of the grave is the land where there are no tears, no sighs, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, and where the just realise their full perfection.


The dread of materialising mental and spiritual conceptions has always been very strong among the Philosophers and oral Teachers of the far East. Their constant effort has been to free the Thinker as far as possible from the bonds of matter even while he is embodied, to open the cage for the Divine Swallow, even though he must return to it for awhile, They are ever seeking “to spiritualise the material”, while in the West the continual tendency has been [57] “to materialise the spiritual”. So the Indian describes the life of the freed Soul in all the terms that make it least material – illusion, dream, and so on – whereas the Hebrew endeavours to delineate it in terms descriptive of the material luxury and splendour of earth – marriage feast, streets of gold, thrones and crowns of solid metal and precious stones; the Western has followed the materialising conceptions of the Hebrew, and pictures a heaven which is merely a double of earth with earth’s sorrows extracted, until we reach the grossest of all, the modern Summerland, with its “spirit-husbands”, “spirit­wives”, and “spirit-infants” that go to school and college, and grow up into spirit-adults.

In “Notes on Devachan”,* [* The Path, May 1890.] someone who evidently writes with knowledge remarks of the Devachanī:


The a priori ideas of space and time do not control his perceptions; far he absolutely creates and annihilates them at the same time. Physical existence has its cumulative intensity from infancy to prime, and its diminishing energy from dotage to death; so the dream-life of Devachan is lived correspondentially. Nature cheats no more the Devachanī than she does the living physical man. Nature provides for him far more real bliss and happiness there than she does here, [58] where all the conditions of evil and chance are against him. To call the Devachan existence a “dream” in any other sense than that of a conventional term, is to renounce for ever the knowledge of the Esoteric Doctrine, the sole custodian of truth.


“Dream” only in the sense that it is not of this plane of gross matter, that it belongs not to the physical world.

Let us try and take a general view of the life of the Eternal Pilgrim, the inner Man, the human Soul, during a cycle of incarnation. Before he commences his new pilgrimage – for many pilgrimages lie behind him in the past, during which he gained the powers which enable him to tread the present one – he is a spiritual Being, but one who has already passed out of the passive condition of pure Spirit, and who by previous experience of matter in past ages has evolved intellect, the self-conscious mind. But this evolution by experience is far from being complete, even so far as to make him master of matter; his ignorance leaves him a prey to all the illusions of gross matter, so soon as he comes into contact with it, and he is not fit to be a builder of a universe, being subject to the deceptive visions caused by gross matter – as a child, looking through a piece of blue glass, imagines all the outside world to be blue. [59]  The object of a cycle of incarnation is to free him from these illusions, so that when he is surrounded by and working in gross matter he may retain clear vision and not be blinded by illusion. Now the cycle of incarnation is made up of two alternating states: a short one called life on earth, during which the Pilgrim-God is plunged into gross matter, and a comparatively long one, called life in Devachan, during which he is encircled by subtle matter, illusive still, but far less illusive than that of earth. The second state may fairly be called his normal one, as it is of enormous extent as compared with the breaks in it that he spends upon earth; it is comparatively normal also, as being less removed from his essential Divine life; he is less encased in matter, less deluded by its swiftly-changing appearances. Slowly and gradually, by reiterated experiences, gross matter loses its power over him and becomes his servant instead of his tyrant. In the partial freedom of Devachan he assimilates his experiences on earth, still partly dominated by them – at first, indeed, almost completely dominated by them so that the devachanic life is merely a sublimated continuation of the earth-life – but gradually freeing himself more and more as he recognises them as transitory and external, until he can move through any [60] region of our universe with unbroken self-consciousness, a true Lord of Mind, the free and triumphant God. Such is the triumph of the Divine Nature manifested in the flesh, the subduing of every form of matter to be the obedient instrument of Spirit.  Thus the Master said:


The spiritual Ego of the man moves in eternity like a pendulum between the hours of life and death, but if these hours, the periods of life terrestrial and life posthumous, are limited in their continuation, and even the very number of such breaks in eternity between sleep and waking, between illusion and reality, have their beginning as well as their end, the spiritual Pilgrim himself is eternal. Therefore the hours of his posthumous life, when unveiled he stands face to face with truth, and the short-lived mirages of his terrestrial existence are far from him, compose or make up, in our ideas, the only reality. Such breaks, in spite of the fact that they are finite, do double service to the Sūtrātmā, which, perfecting itself constantly, follows without vacillation, though very slowly the road leading to its last transformation, when, reaching its aim at last, it becomes a Divine Being. They not only contribute to the reaching of this goal, but without these finite breaks Sūtrātmā-Buddhi could never reach it. Sūtrātmā is the actor, and its numerous and different incarnations are the actor’s parts. I suppose you would not apply to these parts, and so much the less to their costumes, the term of personality. [61]  Like an actor the soul is bound to play; during the cycle of births up to the very threshold of Parinirvana, many such parts, which often are disagreeable to it, but like a bee, collecting its honey from every flower, and leaving the rest to feed the worms of the earth, our spiritual individuality, the Sūtrātmā, collecting only the nectar of moral qualities and consciousness from every terrestrial personality in which it has to clothe itself, forced by Karma, unites at last all these qualities in one, having then become a perfect being, a Dhyān Chohan.* [* The Path, May 1890.]


It is very significant, in this connection, that every devachanic stage is conditioned by the earth-stage that precedes it, and the Man can only assimilate in Devachan the kinds of experience he has been gathering on earth.


A colourless, flavourless personality has a colourless, feeble devachanic state.* [* “Notes on Devachan”, as cited.]


Husband, father, student, patriot, artist, Christian, Buddhist – he must work out the effects of his earth-life in his devachanic life; he cannot eat and assimilate more food than he has gathered; he cannot reap more harvest than he has sown seed. It takes but a moment to cast a seed into a furrow; it takes many a month for that seed to grow into the ripened ear; but [62] according to the kind of the seed is the ear that grows from it, and according to the nature of the brief earth-life is the grain reaped in the field of Aanroo.


There is a change of occupation, a continual change in Devachan, just as much and far more than there is in the life of any man or woman who happens to follow in his or her whole life one sole occupation, whatever it may be, with this difference, that to the Devachanī this spiritual occupation is always pleasant and fills his life with rapture. Life in Devachan is the function of the aspirations of earth-life; not the indefinite prolongation of that “single instance”, but its infinite developments, the various incidents and events based upon and outflowing from that one “single moment” or moments. The dreams of the objective become the realities of the subjective existence . . . The reward provided by Nature for men who are benevolent in a large systematic way, and who have not focussed their affections on an individual or speciality, is that, if pure, they pass the quicker for that through the Kāma and Rūpa Lokas into the higher sphere of Tribhuvana, since it is one where the formulation of abstract ideas and the consideration of general principles fill the thought of its occupant.* [* “Notes on Devachan”, as before. There are a variety of stages in Devachan; the Rūpa Loka is an inferior stage, where the Soul is still surrounded by forms. It has escaped from these personalities in the Tribhuvana.]  [63]


Into Devachan enters nothing that defileth, for gross matter has been left behind with all its attributes on earth and in Kāmaloka. But if the sower has sowed but little seed, the devachanic harvest will be meagre, and the growth of the Soul will be delayed by the paucity of the nutriment on which it has to feed. Hence the enormous importance of the earth-life, the field of sowing, the place where experience is to be gathered. It conditions, regulates, limits, the growth of the Soul; it yields the rough ore which the Soul then takes in hand, and works upon during the devachanic stage, smelting it, forging it, tempering it, into the weapons it will take back with it for its next earth-life. The experienced Soul in Devachan will make for itself a splendid instrument for its next earth-life; the inexperienced one will forge a poor blade enough; but in each case the only material available is that brought from earth. In Devachan the Soul, as it were, sifts and sorts out its experiences; it lives a comparatively free life, and gradually gains the power to estimate the earthly experiences at their real value; it works out thoroughly and completely as objective realities all the ideas of which it only conceived the germ on earth. Thus, noble aspiration is a germ which the Soul would work out into a splendid realisation in Devachan, and [64] it would bring back with it to earth for its next incarnation that mental image, to be materialised on earth when opportunity offers and suitable environment presents itself. For the mind sphere is the sphere of creation, and earth only the place for materialising the pre-existent thought. And the soul is as an architect that works out his plans in silence and deep meditation, and then brings them forth into the outer world where his edifice is to be builded; out of the knowledge gained in his past life, the Soul draws his plans far the next, and he returns to earth to put into objective material form the edifices he has planned. This is the description of a Logos in creative activity:


Whilst Brahma formerly, in the beginning of the Kalpas, was meditating on creation, there appeared a creation beginning with ignorance and consisting of darkness. … Brahmā, beholding that it was defective, designed another; and whilst he thus meditated, the animal creation was manifested. … Beholding this creation also imperfect, Brahmā again meditated, and a third creation appeared, abounding with the quality of goodness.* [* Vishnu Purāna, Bk. I. ch. v.]


The objective manifestation follows the mental meditation; first idea, then form. Hence it will be seen that the notion current among many Theosophists that Devachan is waste time, is but one of the illusions due to the gross matter that blinds them, and that their impatience of the idea of Devachan arises from the [65] delusion that fussing about in gross matter is the only real activity. Whereas, in truth, all effective action has its source in deep meditation, and out of the Silence comes ever the creative Word. Action on this plane would be less feeble and inefficient if it were the mere blossom of the profound root of meditation, and if the Soul embodied passed oftener out of the body into Devachan during earth-life, there would be less foolish action and consequent waste of time. For Devachan is a state of consciousness, the consciousness of the Soul escaped for awhile from the net of gross matter, and may be entered at any time by one who has learned to withdraw his Soul from the senses as the tortoise withdraws itself within its shell. And then, coming forth once more, action is prompt, direct, purposeful, and the time “wasted” in meditation is more than saved by the directness and strength of the mind-engendered act.

Devachan is the sphere of the mind, as said, it is the land of the Gods, or the Souls. In the before quoted “Notes on Devachan” we read:


There are two fields of causal manifestations: the objective and the subjective. The grosser energies find their outcome in the new personality of each birth in the cycle of evoluting individuality. The moral and spiritual activities find their sphere of effects in Devachan. [66]


As the moral and spiritual activities are the most important, and as on the development of these depends the growth of the true Man, and therefore the accomplishing of “the object of creation, the liberation of Soul”, we may begin to understand something of the vast importance of the devachanic state.


When the Triad has shaken off its desire garment, it crosses the threshold of Devachan, and becomes “a Devachanī”. We have seen that it is in a peaceful dreamy state before this passage out of the earth-sphere, the “second death”, or “pre-devachanic unconsciousness”. This condition is otherwise spoken of as the “gestation” period, because it precedes the birth of the Ego into the devachanic life. Regarded from the earth-sphere the passage is death, while regarded from that of Devachan it is birth. Thus we find in “Notes on Devachan”:


As in actual earth-life, so there is for the Ego in Devachan the first flutter of psychic life, the attainment of prime, the gradual exhaustion of force passing into semi-consciousness and lethargy, total oblivion, and – not death but birth, birth into another personality, and the resumption of action which daily begets new congeries of causes that must be worked out [67] in another term of Devachan, and still another physical birth as a new personality. What the lives in Devachan and upon earth shall be respectively in each instance is determined by Karma, and this weary round of birth must be ever and ever run through until the being reaches the end of the seventh Round, or attains in the interim the wisdom of an Arhat, then that of a Buddha, and thus gets relieved for a Round or two.


When the devachanic entity is born into this new sphere it has passed beyond recall to earth. The embodied Soul may rise to it, but it cannot be drawn back to our world. On this a Master has spoken decisively:


From Sukhāvatī down to the “Territory of Doubt”, there is a variety of spiritual states, but … as soon as it has stepped outside the Kāmaloka, crossed the “Golden Bridge” leading to the “Seven Golden Mountains”, the Ego can confabulate no more with easy-going mediums. No Ernest or Joey has ever returned from the Rūpa Loka, let alone the Arūpa Loka, to hold sweet intercourse with men.


In the “Notes on Devachan”, again, we read:


Certainly the new Ego, once that it is reborn (in Devachan), retains for a certain time –  proportionate to its earth-life – a complete recollection “of his life on earth”; but it can never revisit the Earth from Devachan except in Re-incarnation.[68]


The Devachanī is generally spoken of as the Immortal Triad, Ātma-Buddhi-Manas, but it is well always to bear in mind that


Ātman is no individual property of any man, but is the Divine Essence which has no body, no form, which is imponderable, invisible, and indivisible, that which does not exist and yet is, as the Buddhists say of Nirvana. It only overshadows the mortal; that which enters into him and pervades the whole body being only its omnipresent rays or light, radiated through Buddhi, its vehicle and direct emanation.* [* Key to Theosophy, p. 69. Third Edition.]


Buddhi and Manas united, with this overshadowing of Ātma, form the Devachanī; now, as we have seen in studying the Seven Principles, Manas is dual during earth-life, and the lower Manas is purified from all passional elements during the kāmalokic interlude. By this purification of the Ray it carries only the pure and noble experiences of the earth-life into Devachan with it, thus maintaining the past personality as the marked characteristic of the Devachanī, and it is in this prolongation of the “personal Ego”, so to speak, that the “illusion” of the Devachanī consists. Were the manasic entity free from all illusion, it would see all Egos as its brother-Souls, and looking back over its past would recognise all the varied relationships it had borne to others in many lives, as the actor would remember the many parts he had played with other [69] actors, and would think of each brother actor as a man, and not in the parts he had played as his father, his son, his judge, his murderer, his master, his friend. The deeper human relationship would prevent the brother actors from identifying each other with their parts, and so the perfected spiritual Egos, recognising their deep unity and full brotherhood, would no longer be deluded by the trappings of earthly relationships. But the Devachanī, at least in the lower stages, is still within the personal boundaries of his past earth-life; he is shut into the relationships of the one incarnation; his paradise is peopled with those he “loved best with an undying love, that holy feeling that alone survives”, and thus the purified personal Ego is the salient feature, as above said, in the Devachanī. Again quoting from the “Notes on Devachan”:


“Who goes to Devachan?” The personal Ego, of course; but beatified, purified, holy. Every Ego – the combination of the sixth and seventh principles * [* Sixth and seventh in the older nomenclature, fifth and sixth in the later – i.e., Manas and Buddhi.] – which after the period of unconscious gestation is reborn into the Devachan, is of necessity as innocent and pure as a new-born babe. The fact of his being reborn at all shows the preponderance of good over evil in his old personality. And while the Karma [of Evil] steps [70] aside for the time being to follow him in his future earth re-incarnation, he brings along with him but the Karma of his good deeds, words and thoughts into this Devachan. “Bad” is a relative term for us – as you were told more than once before – and the Law of Retribution is the only law that never errs. Hence all those who have not slipped down into the mire of unredeemable sin and bestiality go to the Devachan. They will have to pay for their sins, voluntary and involuntary, later on. Meanwhile they are rewarded; receive the effects of the causes produced by them.


Now in some people a sense of repulsion arises at the idea that the ties they form on earth in one life are not to be permanent in eternity. But let us look at the question calmly for a moment. When a mother first clasps her baby-son in her arms, that one relationship seems perfect, and if the child should die, her longing would be to repossess him as her babe; but as he lives on through youth to manhood the tie changes, and the protective love of the mother and the clinging obedience of the child merge into a different love of friends and comrades, richer than ordinary friendship from the old recollections; yet later, when the mother is aged and the son in the prime of middle life, their positions are reversed and the son protects while the mother depends on him for guidance. [71]  Would the relation have been more perfect had it ceased in infancy with only the one tie, or is it not the richer and the sweeter from the different strands of which the tie is woven? And so with Egos; in many lives they may hold to each other many relationships, and finally, standing as Brothers of the Lodge closely knit together, may look back over past lives and see themselves in earth-life related in the many ways possible to human beings, till the cord is woven of every strand of love and duty; would not the final unity be the richer not the poorer for the many­stranded tie?  “Finally”, I say; but the word is only of this cycle, for what lies beyond, of wider life and less separateness, no mind of man may know. To me it seems that this very variety of experiences makes the tie stronger, not weaker, and that it is a rather thin and poor thing to know oneself and another in only one little aspect of many-sided humanity for endless ages of years; a thousand or so years of one person in one character would, to me, be ample, and I should prefer to know him or her in some new aspect of his nature. But those who object to this view need not feel distressed, for they will enjoy the presence of their beloved in the one personal aspect held by him or her in the one incarnation they are conscious of for as long as the desire [72] for that presence remains.  Only let them not desire to impose their own form of bliss on everybody else, nor insist that the kind of happiness which seems to them at this stage the only one desirable and satisfying, must be stereotyped to all eternity, through all the millions of years that lie before us. Nature gives to each in Devachan the satisfaction of all pure desires, and Manas there exercises that faculty of his innate divinity, that he “never wills in vain”. Will not this suffice?

But leaving aside disputes as to what may be to us “happiness” in a future separated from our present by millions of years, so that we are no more fitted now to formulate its conditions than is a child, playing with its dolls, to formulate the deeper joys and interests of its maturity, let us understand that, according to the teachings of the Esoteric Philosophy, the Devachanī is surrounded by all he loved on earth, with pure affection, and the union being on the plane of the Ego, not on the physical plane, it is free from all the sufferings which would be inevitable were the Devachanī present in consciousness on the physical plane with all its illusory and transitory joys and sorrows. It is surrounded by its beloved in the higher consciousness, but is not agonised by the knowledge of what they are suffering in the lower consciousness, held in the bonds [73] of the flesh. According to the orthodox Christian view, Death is a separation, and the “spirits of the dead” wait for reunion until those they love also pass through Death’s gateway, or – according to some – until after the judgment-day is over. As against this the Esoteric Philosophy teaches that Death cannot touch the higher consciousness of man, and that it can only separate those who love each other so far as their lower vehicles are concerned; the man living on earth, blinded by matter, feels separated from those who have passed onwards, but the Devachanī, says H. P. Blavatsky, has a complete conviction “that there is no such thing as Death at all”, having left behind it all those vehicles “over which Death has power”. Therefore, to its less blinded eyes, its beloved are still with it; for it, the veil of matter that separates has been torn away.


A mother dies, leaving behind her little helpless children, whom she adores, perhaps a beloved husband also. We say that her “Spirit” or Ego – that individuality which is now wholly impregnated, for the entire devachanic period, with the noblest feelings held by its late personality, i.e., love for her children, pity for those who suffer, and so on – is now entirely separated from the “vale of tears”, that its future bliss consists in that blessed ignorance of all the woes it left behind … that the post-mortem spiritual consciousness of the mother will represent to her that she lives surrounded by her children and all those whom she loved; that no gap, no link will be missing to make her disembodied state the most perfect and absolute happiness.* [* Key to Theosophy, p. 99. Third Edition.] [74]


And so again:


As to the ordinary mortal his bliss in Devachan is complete. It is an absolute oblivion of all that gave it pain or sorrow in the past incarnation, and even oblivion of the fact that such things as pain or sorrow exist at all. The Devachanī lives its intermediate cycle between two incarnations surrounded by everything it had aspired to in vain, and in the companionship of everything it loved on earth. It has reached the fulfilment of all its soul-yearnings. And thus it lives throughout long centuries an existence of unalloyed happiness, which is the reward for its sufferings in earth-life. In short, it bathes in a sea of uninterrupted felicity spanned only by events of still greater felicity in degree.* [* Key to Theosophy,  p. 100.]


When we take the wider sweep in thought demanded by the Esoteric Philosophy, a far more fascinating prospect of persistent love and union between individual Egos rolls itself out before our eyes than was offered to us by the more limited creed of exoteric Christendom. “Mothers love their children with an immortal love”, says H. P. Blavatsky, and the reason for this immortality in love is easily grasped when we realise that it is the same Egos that play so many parts in the drama of life, that the experience of each part is recorded in the memory of the Soul, and that between the Souls there is no separation, though during incarnation they may not realise the fact in its fulness and beauty.


We are with those whom we have lost in material form, and far, far nearer to them now than when they were alive. And it is [75] not only in the fancy of the Devachanī, as some may imagine, but in reality. For pure divine love is not merely the blossom of a human heart, but has its roots in eternity. Spiritual holy love is immortal, and Karma brings sooner or later all those who loved each other with such a spiritual affection to incarnate once more in the same family group.* [* Key to Theosophy, p. 101. 1969 Ed., p. 95.]


Love “has its roots in eternity”, and those to whom on earth we are strongly drawn are the Egos we have loved in past earth-lives and dwelt with in Devachan; coming back to earth, these enduring bonds of love draw us together yet again, and add to the strength and beauty of the tie, and so on and on till all illusions are lived down, and the strong and perfected Egos stand side by side, sharing the experience of their well-nigh illimitable past.





At length the causes that carried the Ego into Devachan are exhausted, the experiences gathered have been wholly assimilated, and the Soul begins to feel again the thirst for sentient material life that can be gratified only on the physical plane. The greater the degree of spirituality reached, the purer and loftier the preceding earth-life, the longer the stay in Devachan, [76] the world of spiritual, pure, and lofty effects. [I am here ignoring the special conditions surrounding one who is forcing his own evolution, and has entered on the Path that leads to Adeptship within a very limited number of lives.] The “average time [in Devachan] is from ten to fifteen centuries”, H. P. Blavatsky tells us, and the fifteen centuries cycle is one of those most plainly marked in history.* [*See Manual No. 2, Reincarnation, pp. 60, 61. Third Edition.But in modern life this period has much shortened, in consequence of the greater attraction exercised by physical objects over the heart of man. Further, it must be remembered that the “average time” is not the time spent in Devachan by any person. If one person spends there 1000 years, and another fifty, the “average” is 525. The devachanic period is longer or shorter according to the type of life which preceded it; the more there was of spiritual, intellectual, and emotional activity of a lofty kind, the longer will be the gathering in of the harvest; the more there was of activity directed to selfish gain on earth, the shorter will be the devachanic period.

When the experiences are assimilated, be the time long or short, the Ego is ready to return, and he brings back with him his now increased experience, and any [77] further gains he may have made in Devachan along the lines of abstract thought; for, while in Devachan,


In one sense we can acquire more knowledge; that is, we can develop further any faculty which we loved and strove after during life, provided it is concerned with abstract and ideal things, such as music, painting, poetry, etc.* [* Key to Theosophy, p. 105. Third Edition. 1969 Ed., pp. 100-1.]


But the Ego meets, as he crosses the threshold of Devachan on his way outwards – dying out of Devachan to be reborn on earth – he meets in the “atmosphere of the terrestrial plane”, the seeds of evil sown in his preceding life on earth. During the devachanic rest he has been free from all pain, all sorrow, but the evil he did in his past has been in a state of suspended animation, not of death. As seeds sown in the autumn for the springtime lie dormant beneath the surface of the soil, but touched by the soft rain and penetrating warmth of sun begin to swell and the embryo expands and grows, so do the seeds of evil we have sown lie dormant while the Soul takes its rest in Devachan, but shoot out their roots into the new personality which begins to form itself for the incarnation of the returning man. The Ego has to take up the burden of his past, and these germs or seeds, coming over as the harvest of the past life, are the Skandhas, to borrow a [78] convenient word from our Buddhist brethren. They consist of material qualities, sensations, abstract ideas, tendencies of mind, mental powers, and while the pure aroma of these attached itself to the Ego and passed with it into Devachan, all that was gross, base and evil remained in the state of suspended animation spoken of above. These are taken up by the Ego as he passes outwards towards terrestrial life, and are built into the new “man of flesh” which the true man is to inhabit. And so the round of births and deaths goes on, the turning of the Wheel of Life; the treading of the Cycle of Necessity, until the work is done and the building of the Perfect Man is completed.





What Devachan is to each earth-life, Nirvana is to the finished cycle of Re-incarnation, but any effective discussion of that glorious state would here be out of place. It is mentioned only to round off the “After” of Death, for no word of man, strictly limited within the narrow bounds of his lower consciousness, may avail to explain what Nirvana is, can do aught save disfigure it in striving to describe. What it is not may be roughly, badly stated – it is not “annihilation”, it is not [79] destruction of consciousness.  Mr. A. P. Sinnett has put effectively and briefly the absurdity of many of the ideas current in the West about Nirvāna.  He has been speaking of absolute consciousness, and proceeds:


We may use such phrases as intellectual counters, but for no ordinary mind – dominated by its physical brain and brain-born intellect – can they have a living signification. All that words can convey is that Nirvāna is a sublime state of conscious rest in omniscience. It would be ludicrous, after all that has gone before, to turn to the various discussions which have been carried on by students of exoteric Buddhism as to whether Nirvāna does or does not mean annihilation. Worldly similes fall short of indicating the feeling with which the graduates of Esoteric Science regard such a question. Does the last penalty of the law mean the highest honour of the peerage? Is a wooden spoon the emblem of the most illustrious pre-eminence in learning? Such questions as these but faintly symbolise the extravagance of the question whether Nirvāna is held by Buddhism to be equivalent to annihilation.* [* Esoteric Buddhism, p. 197. Eighth Edition.]


So we learn from The Secret Doctrine that the Nirvānī returns to cosmic activity in a new cycle of manifestation, and that


The thread of radiance which is imperishable and dissolves only in Nirvāna, reemerges from it in its integrity on the day when the Great Law calls all things back into action.* [* Quoted in The Secret Doctrine, vol. ii. p. 83. The student will do well to read, for a fair presentation of the subject, G. R. S. Mead’s “Note on Nirvāna” in ‘Lucifer’, for March, April, and May 1893. (Reprinted in Theosophical Siftings.)[80]





We are now in position to discriminate between the various kinds of communication possible between those whom we foolishly divide into “dead” and “living”, as though the body were the man, or the man could die. “Communications between the embodied and the disembodied” would be a more satisfactory phrase.

First, let us put aside as unsuitable the word Spirit: Spirit does not communicate with Spirit in any way conceivable by us. That highest principle is not yet manifest in the flesh; it remains the hidden fount of all, the eternal Energy, one of the poles of Being in manifestation. The word is loosely used to denote lofty Intelligences, who live and move beyond all conditions of matter imaginable by us, but pure Spirit is at present as inconceivable by us as pure matter. And as in dealing with possible “communications” we have average human beings as recipients, we may as well exclude the word Spirit as much as possible, and so get rid of ambiguity. But in quotations the word often occurs, in deference to the habit of the day, and it then denotes the Ego. [81]

Taking the stages through which the living man passes after “Death”, or the shaking off of the body, we can readily classify the communications that may be received, or the appearances that may be seen:

I.  While the Soul has shaken off only the dense body, and remains still clothed in the etheric double.  This is a brief period only, but during it the disembodied Soul may show itself, clad in this ethereal garment.


For a very short period after death, while the incorporeal principles remain within the sphere of our earth’s attraction, it is possible for spirit, under peculiar and favourable conditions, to appear.* [* Theosophist, Sept. 1882, p. 310.]


It makes no communications during this brief interval, nor while dwelling in this form. Such “ghosts” are silent, dreamy, like sleep-walkers, and indeed they are nothing more than astral sleep-walkers. Equally irresponsive, but capable of expressing a single thought, as of sorrow, anxiety, accident, murder, etc., are apparitions which are merely a thought of the dying, taking shape in the astral world, and carried by the dying person’s will to some particular person, with whom the dying intensely longs to communicate. Such a thought, sometimes called a Māyāvi Rūpa, or illusory form, [82]


may be often thrown into objectivity, as in the case of apparitions after death; but, unless it is projected with the knowledge of (whether latent or potential), or owing to the intensity of the desire to see or appear to some one shooting through, the dying brain, the apparition will be simply automatical; it will not be due to any sympathetic attraction, or to any act of volition, any more than the reflection of a person passing unconsciously near a mirror is due to the desire of the latter.


When the Soul has left the etheric double, shaking it off as it shook off the dense body, the double thus left as a mere empty corpse may be galvanised into an “artificial life”; but fortunately the method of such galvanisation is known to few.

II.  While the Soul is in Kāmaloka.  This period is of very variable duration. The Soul is clad in an astral body, the last but one of its perishable garments, and while thus clad it can utilise the physical bodies of a medium, thus consciously procuring for itself an instrument whereby it can act on the world it has left, and communicate with those living in the body. In this way it may give information as to facts known to itself only, or to itself and another person, in the earth-life just closed; and for as long as it remains within the terrestrial atmosphere such communication is possible. [83] The harm and the peril of such communication has been previously explained, whether the lower Manas be united with the Divine Triad and so on its way to Devachan, or wrenched from it and on its way to destruction.

III.  While the Soul is in Devachan, if an embodied Soul is capable of rising to its sphere, or of coming into rapport with it.  To the Devachanī, as we have seen, the beloved are present in consciousness and full communication, the Egos being in touch with each other, though one is embodied and one is disembodied, but the higher consciousness of the embodied rarely affects the brain. As a matter of fact, all that we know on the physical plane of our friend, while we both are embodied, is the mental image caused by the impression he makes on us. This is, to our consciousness, our friend, and lacks nothing in objectivity. A similar image is present to the consciousness of the Devachanī, and to him lacks nothing in objectivity. As the physical plane friend is visible to an observer on earth, so is the mental plane friend visible to an observer on that plane. The amount of the friend that ensouls the image is dependent on his own evolution, a highly evolved person being capable of far more communication with a Devachanī than one who is unevolved. [84]  Communication when the body is sleeping is easier than when it is awake, and many a vivid “dream” of one on the other side of death is a real interview with him in Kāmaloka or in Devachan.


Love beyond the grave, illusion though you may call it,* [* See on “illusion” what was said under the heading “Devachan”.] has a magic and divine potency that reacts on the living. A mother’s Ego, filled with love for the imaginary children it sees near itself, living a life of happiness, as real to it as when on earth – that love will always be felt by the children in flesh. It will manifest in their dreams and often in various events – in providential protections and escapes, for love is a strong shield and is not limited by space or time. As with this devachanic “mother”, so with the rest of human relationships and attachments, save the purely selfish or material.* [*Key to Theosophy, p. 102. Third Edition.]


Remembering that a thought becomes an active entity, capable of working good or evil, we easily see that as embodied Souls can send to those they love helping and protecting forces, so the Devachanī, thinking of those dear to him, may send out such helpful and protective thoughts, to act as veritable guardian angels round his beloved on earth. But this is a very different thing from the “Spirit” of the mother coming back to earth to be the almost helpless spectator of the child’s woes. [85]

The Soul embodied may sometimes escape from its prison of flesh, and come into relations with the Devachanī.  H. P. Blavatsky writes:


Whenever years after the death of a person his spirit is claimed to have “wandered back to earth” to give advice to those it loved, it is always in a subjective vision, in dream or in trance, and in that case it is the Soul of the living seer that is drawn to the disembodied spirit, and not the latter which wanders back to our spheres.* [* Theosophist, Sept. 1881.]


Where the sensitive, or medium, is of a pure and lofty nature, this rising of the freed Ego to the Devachanī is practicable, and naturally gives the impression to the sensitive that the departed Ego has come back to him. The Devachanī is wrapped in its happy “illusion”, and


the Souls or astral Egos, of pure loving sensitives, labouring under the same delusion, think their loved ones come down to there on earth, while it is their own spirits that are raised towards those in the Devachan.* [* “Notes on Devachan”, Path, June 1890, p. 80.]


This attraction can be exercised by the departed Soul from Kāmaloka or from Devachan:


A “spirit”, or the spiritual Ego, cannot descend to the medium, but it can attract the spirit of the latter to itself, and it can do this only during the two intervals – before and after its “gestation period”. Interval the first is that period between the physical death and the merging of the spiritual Ego into that state which is known in the Arhat Esoteric Doctrine as “Bar-do”. We have [86] translated this as the “gestation period”, and it lasts from a few days to several years, according to the evidence of the Adepts. Interval the second lasts so long as the merits of the old [personal] Ego entitle the being to reap the fruit of its reward in its new regenerated Ego-ship. It occurs after the gestation period is over, and the new spiritual Ego is reborn-like the fabled Phoenix from its ashes – from the old one. The locality which the former inhabits is called by the northern Buddhist Occultists “Devachan”.* [*Theosophist, June 1882, p. 226.]


So also may the incorporeal principles of pure sensitives be placed en rapport with disembodied Souls, although information thus obtained is not reliable, partly in consequence of the difficulty of transferring to the physical brain the impressions received, and partly from the difficulty of observing accurately, when the seer is untrained.* [* Summarized from article in Theosophist, Sept. 1882.]


A pure medium’s Ego can be drawn to and made, for an instant, to unite in a magnetic (?) relation with a real disembodied spirit, whereas the soul of an impure medium can only confabulate with the Astral Soul, or Shell, of the deceased. The former possibility explains those extremely rare cases of direct writing in recognised autographs, and of messages from the higher class of disembodied intelligences.


But the confusion in messages thus obtained is considerable, not only from the causes above named, but also because


even the best and purest sensitive can at most only be placed at any time en rapport with a particular spiritual entity, and can only know, see, and feel what that particular entity knows, sees, and feels. [87]


Hence much possibility of error if generalisations are indulged in, since each Devachanī lives in his own paradise, and there is no “peeping down to earth”.


Nor is there any conscious communication with the flying Souls that come as it were to learn where the Spirits are, what they are doing, and what they think, feel, and see.

What then is being en rapport? It is simply an identity of molecular vibration between the astral part of the incarnated sensitive and the astral part of the dis-incarnated personality. The spirit of the sensitive gets “odylised”, so to speak, by the aura of the spirit, whether this be hybernating in the earthly region or dreaming in the Devachan; identity of molecular vibration is established, and for a brief space the sensitive becomes the departed personality, and writes in its handwriting, uses its language, and thinks its thoughts.  At such times sensitives may believe that those with whom they are for the moment en rapport descend to earth and communicate with them, whereas, in reality, it is merely their own spirits which, being correctly attuned to those others, are for the time blended with them.* [*’Theosophist’, Sept. 1882, p. 309.]


In a special case under examination, H. P. Blavatsky said that the communication might have come from an Elementary, but that it was


far more likely that the medium’s spirit really became en rapport with some spiritual entity in Devachan, the thoughts, knowledge, and sentiments of which formed the substance, while the medium’s own personality and pre-existing ideas more or less governed the forms of the communication.* [* Ibid., p. 310.]


While these communications are not reliable in the facts and opinions stated,


we would remark that it may possibly be that there really is a distinct spiritual entity impressing our correspondent’s mind. In [88] other words, there may, for all we know, be some spirit, with whom his spiritual nature becomes habitually, for the time, thoroughly harmonised, and whose thoughts, language, etc., become his for the time, the result being that this spirit seems to communicate with him. … It is possible (though by no means probable) that he habitually passes into a state of rapport with a genuine spirit, and, for the time, is assimilated therewith, thinking (to a great extent if not entirely) the thoughts that spirit would think, writing in its handwriting, etc. But even so, Mr. Terry must not fancy that that spirit is consciously communicating with him, or knows in any way anything of him, or any other person or thing on earth. It is simply that, the rapport established, he, Mr. Terry, becomes for the nonce assimilated with that other personality, and thinks, speaks, and writes as it would have done on earth. … The molecules of his astral nature may from time to time vibrate in perfect unison with those of some spirit of such a person, now in Devachan, and the result may be that he appears to be in communication with that spirit, and to be advised, etc., by him, and clairvoyants may see in the Astral Light a picture of the earth-life form of that spirit.


IV.  Communications other than those from disembodied Souls, passing through normal post-mortem states.

(a) From Shells.  These, while but the cast-off garment of the liberated Soul, retain for some time the impress of their late inhabitant, and